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Charitable giving and the brain

Last year, I did some research on the psychological benefits of volunteering in the community. I refered to a study conducted by Allen Luks of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York City.

An estimated 95% of the 3,296 volunteers sampled for that research study reported almost immediate positive physical benefits derived from helping others in a variety of capacities. Luks explained that his study suggested that the act of offering a helping hand causes the brain to release endorphins, and in turn, the endorphins act to disolve stress and anxiety.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune: "Donating to charity is good for the brain," by Robert Mitchum helped confirm some of Luk's findings, but in greater depth. The University of Oregon working along with a team of economists and psychologists have explored how donating money to charity- appears to activate areas in the brain closely associated with pleasure. The article noted the groundbreaking nature of the study by explaining how it represents "a major advance" in the emerging field of neuroeconomics.

Economics Professor, William Harbaugh noted that people across all economic strata are affected by charitable givng in positive ways, which he termed :"the warm glow." Through brain imaging technologies such as MRI, economists may now be able to further explore some previously hidden pieces of human behavior and motivation. Because the sample consisted of 100 female students in Oregon, researchers are cautious about drawing any wide conclusions now.

Although there may be some skeptics ready to cast doubt, the researchers observed directly that the participants in the study demonstrated "a strong reward reaction with voluntary giving, thus supporting the warm glow phenomenon."

I find it fascinating that both economists and psychologists worked together to analyze the effects of charitable giving. How each camp could actually collaborate -is in and of itself, a phenomenon. I'm not aware of any other research studies dealing with physical reactions related to giving, but welcome your feedback.

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