The Science behind Charity

Our emotions can’t comprehend suffering on a massive scale. This is why we are riveted when one child falls down a well, but turn a blind eye to the suffering of millions of people.

The first thing to note about giving away money is that it feels really good. For instance, several brain scanning experiments demonstrate that donating to a worthy cause leads to activation in the dopamine reward pathway. It’s the same part of the brain that’s turned on when we have sex, or eat a slice of chocolate cake. In fact, there is typically more "reward-related" activity when we donate money than we receive an equivalent amount. Giving is literally better than getting, at least from the perspective of the brain. But this generosity comes with a catch. Yes, we have altruistic instincts. Still, these instincts come with some real blind spots.

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