A researcher at the University of Oregon recently conducted a study on the brain effects of donating money to a cause. In the study, the researchers gave subjects $100 and watched their brain activity via FMRI as the subjects were shown their money being transferred from their account directly to a foodbank's account. Then they did the same thing but allowed the subjects to choose how to spend their money. Full Text can be downloaded here.
In the automatic transfer of funds to the foodbank, pleasure areas of the brain (that are traditionally stimulated by food, sex, sweets, shelter and social connection) were significantly activated. In the second part of the study when the subject chose to donate the money, the effect was even greater.
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