Even small amounts of generosity could make people happier, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study, which explored the neural effects of generous behavior, found even a promise to behave generously has the potential to improve mood. The study looked at blood flow to brain regions associated with happiness and generosity rather than other more subjective assessments of mood. It is unclear whether the changes in brain behavior that were measured in the study improved participants’ feelings of well-being.
Does Generosity Make People Happier?
The study gathered data on 50 participants to whom researchers promised to send 25 Swiss francs weekly for four weeks. Half of the participants agreed to spend the money on someone they knew. The other half agreed to spend the money on themselves.
Participants then completed a decision-making task while researchers measured changes in the brain’s blood flow using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The decision-making task required participants to decide to whom to give the money, and at what amount.
Generosity Activates Happiness in the Brain
Brain scans revealed those making decisions about generous behavior had increased activity in three brain regions: the tempoparietal junction, which plays a role in generosity and prosocial behavior; the orbitofrontal cortex, which processes decision-making; and the ventral striatum, which is associated with feelings of happiness.
Participants who had previously committed to spend money on someone else displayed different blood flow patterns than those who had committed to spend their money on themselves. In those committed to generosity, the interactions between brain regions linked to generosity and those linked to happiness were stronger.
The researchers say these results suggest simply committing to generous behavior can activate brain regions associated with happiness, and future research could further illuminate the link between happiness and generosity. Researchers might explore how to strengthen the connection between brain regions associated with happiness and generosity. They might also look into whether being generous with the specific intention to increase feelings of happiness is effective.
- Generous people live happier lives. (2017, July 17). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170711112441.htm
- Park, S. Q., Kahnt, T., Dogan, A., Strang, S., Fehr, E., & Tobler, P. N. (2017). A neural link between generosity and happiness. Nature Communications, 8, 15964. doi:10.1038/ncomms15964
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