Many individual studies have hinted that generosity activates the reward network of the brain but this new study from Sussex is the first that brought these studies together, and then split the results into two types of kindness — altruistic and strategic.
The Sussex scientists found that reward areas of the brain are more active — i.e. use up more oxygen — when people act with strategic kindness when there is an opportunity for others to return the favour. But they also found that acts of altruism, with no hope of personal benefit, activate the reward areas of the brain too, and more than that, that some brain regions were more active during altruistic generosity, indicating that there is something unique about being altruistic with no hope of gaining something in return.
Lead author Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn said, “We know that people can choose to be kind because they like feeling like they are a ‘good person’, but also that people can choose to be kind when they think there might be something ‘in it’ for them such as a returned favour or improved reputation.”
“The finding of different motivations for giving raises all sorts of questions, including what charities and organisations can learn about what motivates their donors. Some museums, for example, choose to operate a membership scheme with real strategic benefits for their customers, such as discounts,” said co-author Jo Cutler.
The full findings are present in the journal — NeuroImage.