Researchers at Duke Medical Center have recently discovered that a portion of the brain shows higher level of activity in people who are more altruistic (hat tip to Nick Booth at Podnosh). What is interesting is that the area of the brain they identified is generally associated with people’s ability to understand social relationships.
This suggests that people who understand how social relationships work are more likely to be altruistic. Personally, I don’t support the idea that giving is only admirable if the person does it without any benefit to themselves. I think that we all “do well by doing good” and that it is not actually possible to give without benefit to yourself. Probably the ultimate example of “selfless giving” is Mother Theresa and I find it hard to believe that she got nothing from her life of service. I would suggest that she was so driven to be altruistic that she would have been deeply unhappy if she had not devoted her life to giving to others.
I think all of this is important for two reasons, 1) donors need to understand that when evaluated with a long-term perspective, giving does not mean sacrificing or doing without something that you need. Instead giving is part of a joyful life. 2) For those of us who wish to support philanthropy, creating a more interconnected society and encouraging donors to understand the interconnectedness of global life is part of the path we need to follow.