In a 2006 study backed by the National Institute of Health, Neurologist Jorge Moll working in collaboration fellow neuroscientist Jordan Grafman, used functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI) to measure the brain responses of 19 participants in reaction to acts of donation. Participants were given 2 pools of funds with the potential to walk away with $128 for themselves. They were provided the choice of either donating to several morally controversial charitable causes such as abortion, nuclear power, euthanasia and war, or keeping the money for themselves. The aim of the study was to measure the brains response to donating even if donating to a charity meant that money would be deducted from their personal funds. On average participants donated a sum of $51 and kept the rest for themselves. To the surprise of Moll and Grafman the brain scans revealed that whether keeping the money or donating it to charity at personal cost (which is indicative of a true act of altruistic behavior) two areas of the brain were stimulated that are reward systems which release pleasurable neurochemicals such as dopamine serotonin and oxytocin. These feel good molecules are normally released in response to pleasurable activities such as eating, having sex and recreational drug use, reinforcing the aforementioned behaviors. To find that these areas (the midbrain VTA and subgenual structures) also respond in increased activity in response to charitable giving indicates that humans may actually be hardwired to act altruistically because it feels good for them to do so.
Jorge Moll is a Neurologist who completed his medical degree and residency training at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1994 and 1997 respectively. Moll received a Doctorate of Sciences degree in Experimental Physiopathology from the University of Sao Paulo in 2004. Moll also holds a a Postdoctoral degree in Cognitive Neuroscience from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and conducted research at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD from 2004 to 2007.