Generosity and Oxytocin – Tis the Season

Posted: December 6th, 2010 | Author: skwilcox | Filed under: Generosity, News | No Comments »

As we approach the Christmas season, our thoughts turn to the old truisms we heard growing up. You know: "it's better to give than to receive" or the variant "it is in giving that we receive." USA Today recently published an article examining human generosity.

Before getting into the substance of the article, I do have to say that the story's opening kind of cracked me up…which was not the intended effect from the author, I'm sure. But seriously, when you point out that we commonly describe generosity as "coming from the heart" when, "in fact, the origins of giving probably are deep in the brain's circuitry," does the writer really think that anyone in the western world still thinks the heart actually controls emotions? I'll answer my own rhetorical question: of course they don't think that, but it was irritating, yet amusing, nonetheless. 

Anyway, on to the real story. The University of Notre Dame received funding to study generosity from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Researchers there are looking at people's willingness to give using economics, sociology, psychology, neurology, etc. This could prove to be very useful information, not only for people and groups in need that may benefit from increased giving, but also to those who are-or may become-more generous. Studies have shown that people who give of their time, money, and even blood are happier and likely to live longer than those who don't.

One angle this study is pursuing is the link between oxytocin and charitable giving. The current state of research doesn't seem to indicate that oxytocin causes people to be generous, but it does appear to enhance the good feelings experienced by someone when they do give. The next logical step is that someone is more likely to continue, if not increase, their generosity due to the oxytocin boost they experienced in previous bouts of giving.

So put some thought into your gift-giving this year. You'll be happier, and those around you will be, too.