Why People Give to Charity: Backed by Science
Why Do People Give, Anyway?
When people give to charity, we see that they have this fulfilling glow afterward. You never hear someone say, “Ugh, I just donated to charity and now I feel like a terrible person.”
Have you ever asked yourself why do people really give back?
Well, we are motivated to give because it makes us feel good.
And there is psychological evidence to prove it.
Let’s Bring it Back to Psych 101
There are a few terms that are important to review in order to understand the impact of the experiment described in the following section.
Parts of the Brain that are Active During Charitable Giving
- The Caudate Nucleus influences behavior in human beings, playing an essentialrole in learning by processing and storing memories.
- The Nucleus Accumbens is the part of the brain that functions as the reward circuit, triggering dopamine neurons.
Remember Neurotransmitters? They Play a Role Here Too.
Neurotransmitter- a chemical in the brain that acts as a messenger of neurologic information, relaying signals from cell to cell in order to support the daily function of the body.
There are two types of neurotransmitters that play a role in creating the ‘good’ feelings you get when you give to charity:
- Dopamine– the chemical that is responsible for attention, motivation and goal-oriented behavior by motivating learning through pleasurable reward. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity.
- Serotonin- the chemical responsible for mood balance as well as regulating sleep and appetite.
The Psychology of Giving
A Basic Outline of The Experiment
In the June 2007 edition of Science Magazine, a group of researchers at the University of Oregon studied how the brain reacts when people give to charity.
The experiment began with giving $100 to university students and telling them that they could keep any money left at the end of the study.
This is where the fun begins.
After receiving the $100 in a computerized account, certain events occurred:
- The student was given the choice to voluntarily give portions of the money to the food bank.
- Incremental, tax like deductions were taken from the original $100 in the account and given to charity without consent of the student.
Utilizing fMRI scanning (brain imaging technology that displays blood flow to different areas of the brain), the scientists observed receptors firing in two parts of the brain: The caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens. Don’t be scared off by these terms– long story short, these are the parts of the brain that play a large role in learning and reward (See section 2 for a quick Psych 101 review).
What the Study Revealed About Why Giving Makes Us Happy
Both Voluntary and Involuntary Giving Can Be Pleasurable
What was most surprising in the experiment, was that the pleasure neurotransmitters were fired in both instances (even when the money was deducted involuntarily). This indicates that people even experience feelings of pleasure when money is taken from them for another cause that will support a greater good of the community (i.e. taxes). However, it is important to note that the perception of whether the cause was worthy played a large role here– whether the money was deducted voluntarily or involuntarily.
Giving is a Part of our Basic Reward System
The parts of the brain that lit up during this experiment were the same regions that control other basic psychological rewards, such as the pleasurable feelings we get from eating and sex. With this in mind, the experiment revealed that maybe as humans we are actually hardwired to be charitable.
Some People Display a Stronger Psychological Response to Giving
In analyzing the brain scans, the scientists revealed that, “the larger a person’s neural response to increases in the public good, no matter the source, the more likely they will give voluntarily.” Some people simply displayed a stronger presence of pleasure neurons firing throughout the experiment, and therefore may feel even better than others as a result of giving to charity. This may explain why some people feel more inclined to give than others.
Conclusion: Giving is Even More Powerful Than We Expected
Knowing that charitable giving is a part of the basic reward system in the brain, the answer behind why people give has become even more clear.
We all know that giving is powerful, and now there is scientific evidence to back it up.
How 4ME4WE Can Help You Be Happier
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