According to Dr. Donald Pfaff, author of
The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good, every time we register the need to perform a selfless or benevolent act, our brains undergo a five step process within a few hundredths of a second after our recognition of the need to act. Pfaff argues that this process, referred to as Altruistic Brain Theory (ABT), activates humans’ predisposition to act altruistically.
The 5 steps of ABT: Step 1: Representation of what the person is about to do Step 2: Perception of the individual toward whom the benefactor will act Step 3: Merge images of the victim with one’s own self image Step 4: Activation of the altruistic brain by feelings that allow the benefactor to assess potential consequences Step 5: Performance of an altruistic act
Eight-year-old Christian McPhilamy grew out his blond hair for more than two years (and endured taunting and teasing) so he could donate it to Children With Hair Loss, a charity that provides hair replacement for kids who have medically-related hair loss. The charity estimates that only 1 in 50 donations come from boys.
A kind-hearted Atlanta couple made the best out of a bad situation by donating their daughter’s canceled wedding reception to the homeless.
Carol and Willie Fowler decided that the first-rate meal they had reserved for Sunday, Sept. 15 at upmarket Villa Christina restaurant shouldn’t go to waste — so they invited 200 of the Atlanta’s destitute to join them.
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
Three universities did a joint study over five years in which they followed 846 people and recorded how stressful their lives were (tallying stuff like financial hardship or deaths in the family) and how much time they had spent helping others. Out of 846 people, 134 of the participants died within those five years. Researchers cracked open their records to see whether there was any connection between being especially nice to people and meeting an untimely end. That’s pretty intuitive: Nice people finish last, right? If you’re always out there helping people, one of them is eventually going to throw you in a van and use your mutilated corpse as a prop in a twisted tableau about the fate of sinners. Everybody knows that.
Shockingly, it skewed the other way: People who helped out less experienced increased mortality. Of course, freak accidents do occur, and altruists aren’t all Ned Flanders Highlanders, but it seems that there is some correlation after you correct for those who randomly fell down mineshafts. The theory is that if you’re actually participating in society in a positive way, you’re more inclined to stick around in that society a little longer. When stressful situations occur, your body is less likely to implode if you have positive social connections. Basically, it helps if you have a reason to live aside from seeing how Game of Thrones ends. In fact, the researchers suggest that, according to their study, a life of good deeds may mean up to a 30 percent reduced level of mortality due to stress.
How one doctor’s inspirational leadership has made free, top-class public healthcare a reality in Pakistan.
The public healthcare system in Pakistan, as in many developing countries, struggles with a lack of resources. The result is that specialist medical treatment, such as organ transplant, is out of reach for many of the poorest and the most in need.
And yet here at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), one man’s passion means that today, more than a million patients a year receive top-class medical treatment, at no cost.
Kidney disease is a huge health issue in Pakistan compounded by poor diets and sanitation.
In 1972, Dr Adib Rizvi set up a small urology unit in Karachi, the capital of the southern Sindh province, to deal with the issue.
Inspired by the National Health Service of the UK, his goal from the beginning was to offer this treatment absolutely free to everybody. Many patients also come from Afghanistan to seek treatment.
SIUT has grown from just eight beds to over 650 beds at nine separate centres across Pakistan and today is the largest health organisation in the country.
Join The Cure presenter Dr Javid Abdelmoneim in Karachi as he meets the doctor who has spent the last 40 years providing free healthcare to those who need it most.
A new computational model of how the brain makes altruistic choices
is able to predict when a person will act generously in a scenario
involving the sacrifice of money. The work, led by California Institute
of Technology scientists and, appearing July 15 in the journal Neuron, also helps explain why being generous sometimes feels so difficult.
The reason people act altruistically is well contested among
academics. Some argue that people are innately selfish and the only way
to override our greedy tendencies is to exercise self-control. Others
are more positive, believing that humans naturally find generosity
rewarding and that we only act selfishly when we pause to think about
it. The Caltech model suggests that neither side fits all; both
generosity and selfishness can be fast and effortless. But it depends on
the person and the context.
“We take a very simple model of choice that’s been developed for
predicting perceptual decisions–like whether a dot is moving left or
right–and adapt it to capture generosity,” says lead author Cendri
Hutcherson, who did the work as a postdoctoral fellow at the California
Institute of Technology and now directs the Decision Neuroscience Lab at
the University of Toronto. “With this simple model, we are able to
explain a huge host of previously confusing patterns about how people
make altruistic choices.”
“We find that what matters is not whether you can exert
self-control, but simply how strongly you consider others’ needs
relative to your own,” she says. “If you consider the other person’s
needs more, being generous feels easy. If you consider yourself more,
generosity requires a lot of effort.”
Hutcherson also thinks the model sheds light on debates about
whether the mere act of behaving generously is rewarding. “Researchers
have observed that if you act generously then you see greater activity
in areas of the brain that represent reward value, and so have concluded
that generosity is an inherently rewarding act–but our model actually
suggests that you can get that activity just because of the way these
regions construct a decision,” she says. “You would see more activation
in reward areas simply because the decision is complex and so requires
more processing to make.”
The model is based on brain scans of 51 males as they made decisions
in a modified version of the “Dictator Game.” To play this game, each
participant was paired up with a stranger he would never meet and asked
whether he would be willing to sacrifice different amounts so that the
stranger could get a significantly larger pay-out (e.g., lose $25 and
the other person receives an extra $100). The money was real and each
participant had to make a total of 180 decisions.
The brain scans suggested that different brain areas represent one’s
own and others’ interests. Self-oriented values correlated with
activity in the ventral striatum, an area linked to basic reward
processing. Other-oriented values correlated with activation of the
temporoparietal junction, which has been implicated in empathy.
Hutcherson believes this is evidence that people are more likely to give
away resources if they already have in mind how their donation will
benefit someone else.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people tended to be greedy, but the
model also explains another puzzle: sometimes even the most selfish
participants at times made generous decisions. The researchers see these
choices not as evidence of self-control, as previously thought, but
simply mistakes, a moment in which the benefit for the self was
accidently underweighted. These errors suggest that time pressure could
be one way to get people to behave out-of-character of their normal
giving behaviors, but this is likely not a successful long-term strategy
“Our results indicate that people are happier when mistaken
generosity doesn’t happen.” Hutcherson says. “But if we can increase
people’s focus on the thoughts and experiences of others, we can
decrease those mistakes while increasing charitable giving and making
altruism feel a lot easier.”
“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.” ― Michael Strassfeld
Many technology start-ups aim to become “unicorns,” the companies that get valued at $1 billion or more on their way to probable vast riches. Yancey Strickler and Perry Chen have no interest in that.
As co-founders of Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding website that lets people raise money to help fund all manner of projects, including cooking gadgets and movies, Mr. Strickler and Mr. Chen could have tried to take their company public or sell it, earning millions of dollars for themselves and other shareholders.
Instead, they announced on Sunday that Kickstarter was reincorporating as a “public benefit corporation,” a legal change they said would ensure that money — or the promise of it — would not corrupt their company’s mission of enabling creative projects to be funded.
Neuroscientists have mapped how the human brain experiences gratitude
with help from an unexpected resource: Holocaust survivors’
“In the midst of this awful tragedy, there were many acts of bravery and life-saving aid,” said lead author Glenn Fox,
a post-doctoral researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC
who led the study. “With the Holocaust, we only typically associate the
awful things. But when you listen to the survivors, you also hear
stories of incredible virtue, and gratitude for the help they received.”
The research sheds new light on a very under-studied subject, said the study’s senior author Antonio Damasio,
director of the BCI and Dornsife Neuroimaging Institute at USC, and
professor of psychology and neurology at USC Dornsife College of
Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“There has not been much attention given to the emotion of gratitude,
and yet it is extremely important in social behavior,” Damasio said.
“Gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the cycle of healthy social
Using multiple recordings of testimony from the vast archives of the USC Shoah Foundation,
the team of researchers designed a brain-scan study to test and track
gratitude in 23 study subjects, most of them in their 20s, who had no
personal connections to the Holocaust.
Stimulating feelings of gratitude like the survivors had felt
required some preparation for the study subjects. To immerse them in the
history of the Holocaust, researchers showed brief documentaries that
explained the chronology of the Holocaust: the rise of Nazism and
persecution; internment; the Final Solution; the final months and the
Liberation. This approach mimicked the visitor experience of the U.S.
The researchers also developed second-person scenarios based on the
survivors’ stories about someone giving them something – such as a place
to hide or a pair of shoes – that saved their lives.
After showing the documentaries, researchers posed the transcribed
stories to the subjects, such as: “You have been sick for weeks. A
prisoner who is a doctor finds medicine and saves your life.” The
participants rated the depth of their gratitude in 50 such scenarios.
With the MRI scanner, the researchers were able to map gratitude’s
circuitry in the brain.
“They had an experience of gratitude as they imagined themselves in the situation,” Fox said.
Fox said he and the other researchers found that when the brain feels
gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral
cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic
decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and
dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate
In addition to the findings, the subjects reported another benefit of
the study: They had, as a result, a much better understanding about the
Holocaust and greater empathy for the survivors.
“When they gave testimony to USC Shoah Foundation many Holocaust
survivors told us that they found reason to be grateful, whether it was
because of a stranger offering a bit of food or a neighbor providing a
place to hide,” said USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith.
“These small acts of generosity helped them hold on to their humanity.
That Glenn has been able to use testimonies in his incredible research
on gratitude shows why it is so important to preserve the voices of
people who lived through these dark times.”
Prior studies, as well as ancient philosophers, have implied that
gratitude is beneficial for health, wellbeing and relationships. Fox
said he is exploring those effects.