Being generous may improve your brain health and make you happier

  • Mind
  • Tuesday, 25 Jul 2017

Is there a link between behaviour and emotions?

Giving presents and making donations may not always make financial sense, but it makes us happy, experts have shown.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), an international team of researchers has shown exactly which neural networks are activated when we perform a generous act.

The team published its results in the journal Nature.

The experiment was carried out in Zurich.

Researchers first promised to send each of the 50 test participants 25 Swiss francs (about RM111) within a period of four weeks.

Half of the participants had to promise to pass the money on to other people, such as giving a present to a friend.

The other half, which served as a control group, had to pledge that they would spend the money on themselves.

The participants never actually saw the money.

However, immediately after making their promises they were asked to take part in a further piece of research.

They had to make decisions where generosity again played a role.

As they did that, researchers observed their brain activity using an fMRI device.

The group who had earlier been classified as generous also made more generous decisions in this second experiment.

Read more: Do we get more generous as we age?

Generosity and happiness

Following the exercise, they also reported that they were happier than the participants in the control group.

"This allowed us to confirm that there is a connection between generous behaviour and happiness," said So Young Park of the University of Luebeck in Germany

"Further, however, we were also able to show how our brain establishes this link," adds Park, who leads the research team.

Is there a link between behaviour and emotions?

Among participants from the generous group, researchers found greater activity in a certain area of the brain called the temporoparietal junction (TPJ).

This is a brain structure that has already often been related to generous behaviour in the past, Park notes.

Improves your mood

Researchers also found changes in the connectivity between the TPJ and the so-called ventral striatum, an area of the brain that causes pleasant feelings of happiness.

So take a friend out for dinner, buying a present for your partner or donating money to a homeless person.

Performing these examples of generosity is officially a mood lifter.

According to the authors of the study, the results of the study have far-reaching consequences for society.

These findings could be used to help people feel happier. – dpa

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