As a society, we are being fed two conflicting messages: “survival of the fittest” and “it’s better to give than receive.” Proponents of the first point to Darwin and say that they’re right due to evolution. But what if humanity has actually evolved in a manner which promotes the second point of view?
University of California at Berkeley neuroscientists, including Dr. Jorge Moll have found evidence to support the notion that the human brain is subtly evolving in a manner wherein compassion and collaboration are increasingly rewarded in our quest for survival. In studying the brains of volunteers who were given scenarios revolving around either donating a sum of money or keeping it, Moll and colleagues found startling results. When the volunteers placed others before themselves, two primitive “reward” centers of the brain, the midbrain VTA, and the subgenual area, were highly active. These areas are generally most active in response to food or sex for the midbrain VTA and seeing one’s partner or a baby for the subgenual area. Learn more about Jorge Moll at Google Scholar.
This finding sheds a different light on the idea that the brain’s sole goal is maximizing survivability. If that is the case, Moll’s findings would indicate that feeling pleasurable after being generous, which uses the same parts of the brain that govern more selfish urges, is part of that goal of maximum survivability. Simply put, it’s part of our neurology to feel good after being generous.
This helps to dispel the notion that humans practice what is referred to as “impure altruism,” or the idea that someone feels good after an act of altruism because they derive some sort of utility from the altruistic act; a utility economists place akin to enjoying a good movie or a sense of security after changing your locks. While humans may actually feel some sense of “utility” from acting generously, Moll’s findings can show that it’s not from a sense of moral superiority, but rather because the human brain is hard-wired to make you feel pleasure after being generous. This certainly explains why some people keep on giving. Know more about Jorge at Crunchbase.