The Brain Benefits of Altruism

Prominent Brazilian neuroscientist Jorge Moll and his colleague Jordan Grafman have made an intriguing breakthrough in the study of why humans chose to sacrifice their self-interest for the good of others. The combination of strong science and the influential mind behind it make this find particularly remarkable.


The Science

Dr. Jorge Moll and his colleague were studying scans of the brains of people while they were donating to charity. Backing their study was behavioral research that showed that people were willing to give to charities that mattered to them, at their own expense. The economists behind that study suggested that people were willing to be altruistic because they received some psychological benefit from the action. Jorge Moll’s brain scans showed exactly what happened: When people gave to a cause that mattered to them, two different reward centers in the brain lit up. The first is known as the Midbrain VTA and is the area that responds to drugs, sex, food, and money. The second, somewhat surprisingly, was the subgenual area. This area usually only responds to seeing a baby or a romantic partner. The effect of these two pathways lighting up together is that the giver experiences a unique pleasant sensation when they give.


The Minds Behind the Science

One of the two pilot scientists in this study was Jorge Moll, MD, Ph.D. No stranger to altruism himself, Dr. Moll is president of three philanthropic scientific agencies in Brazil that work to enhance the quality and availability of healthcare around the world. Dr. Moll is both a medical doctor and an esteemed scientist, as well as one of the brightest medical minds in Brazil. His presence in this study added an impressive layer of expertise and reliability to what was already a science-backed process. Together with Dr. Grafman, Dr. Jorge Moll has stumbled upon a neurophysiological response to altruism that may be used in the future to improve the lives of many patients.



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