Jorge Moll and Other Neuroscientists Make Discoveries in the Science of Giving

Model Petra Nemcova and her fiance Simon Atlee were vacationing in Thailand in 2004 when the devastating tsunami hit the country and caused severe damage and loss of life. Atlee was killed in the tsunami, and Nemcova was so badly injured that she had to be transported to the hospital via helicopter. Her pelvis was fractured and doctors were shocked that she wasn’t paralyzed. Petra also experienced internal bleeding had to take time to recover at her parents’ home in the Czech Republic even after spending time healing in the hospital.

Not even a year later, Petra Nemcova returned back to the place in Thailand where she nearly lost her life and her fiance was taken from her by a natural disaster. She wanted to help the children that lived there, stating that once emergency efforts were over, these children would likely be forgotten and wouldn’t get the help they needed. This leads many people to wonder why people return to traumatic places with the strong desire to help others, when it would be much easier to stay away.

Jorge Moll was fascinated when he saw the results of a study he and Jordan Grafman conducted at the National Institutes of Health. Jorge and Jordan found that people who were charitable toward others got the same sensation as when they were enjoying a great meal or intimate time with a significant other. This was even the case for individuals who thought they would feel better by keeping money for themselves instead of giving the money to someone in need (Interview).

This goes to show that while we have been socially conditioned to share and be charitable, this is a primitive behavior in humans that activates a pleasure center of our brain and causing positive sensations in the body. So, perhaps being socialized to be charitable has been more so to convince us that we should do good things for others because it benefits others, and not because it makes us feel good says Jorge.


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