Brazilian Neuroscientist Jorge Moll spearheaded a study at the National Institute of Health in 2006 that has brought up a lot of questions about how our brain’s physiology can affect our sense of altruism and morality. Moll and colleague Jordan Grafman designed the study which scanned the brains of participants when they were given scenarios in which they were asked whether they would donate money to charity or keep it.
What the study found was that when participants made the decision to donate and be charitable, it activated a primordial part of the brain. This more primal brain component is connected to the more basic functions such as the brain’s response to food and even sex. Based on these findings, morality and altruism do not seem to be part of the more ethical, advanced type of thinking, but instead is more or less linked to the brain’s responses to human pleasures. Thus, it seems we as humans are charitable because of how good it makes us feel when we give, knowing we are actively helping our fellow man, or other creatures of the world. When one thinks about lessons from spiritual leaders and theorists who have been saying for years upon years that giving and being generous with what we have can fulfill us more than taking and keeping everything, this study validates this.
Jorge Moll is the President and Senior Researcher of D’Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, specializing in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the head of the Cognitive Neurosciences Unit and Neuroinformatics Workgroup at the Institute. In 2008, he was elected an affiliate member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and from 2012 to 2013 a governor’s board member of the International Neuroethics Society. He received the Research Fellow NIH Award for the years 2004 through 2007, as well as the Visiting Scholar Award from the Stanford Neuroscience Institute, Stanford University, in 2015.