Donors become more generous after giving the first time

Giving may truly be better than receiving, from a neurological perspective, Gretchen Reynolds writes for the New York Times.

The finding comes from a study published in Nature Communications journal that looked into whether giving had any substantial effect on brain activity.

To conduct the study, scientists at the University of Zurich asked 50 men and women to complete questionnaires about their mood. Researchers also examined participants' brain activity as they were given hypothetical scenarios regarding monetary gifts to loved ones.

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Researchers gave participants 25 Swiss francs once a week for a month—half were told to spend the money on themselves, and the other half were told to give the money to someone else each week. After they were told this, the participants engaged in the same questionnaires and exercises as before. 

At the end of the study period, researchers found that participants who agreed to give the money away felt happier than those who were told to spend it on themselves, according to the report. Those who agreed to give money away also were also more generous in the hypothetical scenarios.

In addition, researchers found that participants who agreed to give the money away demonstrated greater activity in the portion of their brain most associated with altruism, which was also communicating more with the brain's reward center.

In other words, giving money away inspired a pattern of generosity and made participants more open to giving again in the future.

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Thorsten Kahnt, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study, says there may be an evolutionary reason for the findings. He argues that our ancestors probably wouldn't have shared their food or labor unless it came with some kind of reward—such as a feeling of happiness (Reynolds, New York Times, 9/14). 

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