The traditional evolutionary biology and psychology perspective on human nature is that we are naturally selfish in order to guarantee our survival as individuals, but Brazil’s leading neuroscientist Jorge Moll may have discovered otherwise. He and his partner Jordan Grafman, both members of the National Institute of Health, scanned brains of philanthropic volunteers as they were asked to think about a situation where they donated an amount of money to charity or kept it for personal use to examine where the impulse to give, or put in other terms, compassion, surges in the brain. In another study, Grafman was able to determine that people with higher involvement in charity in their everyday life had higher level of activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain towards the forehead. When volunteers placed others well-being before theirs, a part of the brain usually triggered in response to sex or food was activated. Helping other affects two brain reward stimulant systems: the VTA, also stimulated by sex, food and drugs and the subgenual area, stimulated when people see their significant others or babies.
What makes their 2006 study so staggering? In 1989 James Andreoni tried to explain the reasons why people give to charity with the term “warm-glow giving”. The fact that some people are encouraged to help the ones in need despite the fact that it may mean sustaining personal costs is something that has perplexed neuroscientist and evolutionary psychologists. The term created by Andreoni means that people participate in “impure altruism”: they don’t give by the sole purpose of helping other, but for the utility obtained from the generosity, which is the pleasurable emotional feeling one gets from helping others. Moll and Grafman’s study supports the existence of the “warm glow” at a neurological level (diasdacruz). Their study gave the first scientific proof that the “joy of giving” has a biological root in our brain, the medial orbitofrontal-subgenual and lateral orbitofrontal areas because they mediate the decisions to help or to oppose determinate social causes. And even more astoundingly, compassion and generosity shares that basis with selfish rewards satisfaction as the same anterior sections of the prefrontal cortex are stimulated and the mesolimbic reward system is engaged almost identically by both donations and when monetary rewards are given.