Hard-Wired for Giving?

Classical economic theory and the Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest” both suggest that self-centeredness is the way to succeed. Edging out the competition, selfish people take the best mates and the best resources, goes the theory. However, new scientific studies suggest that instead, humans are actually hard-wired to be altruistic.


One school of thought holds that altruism exists to insure the survival of close kin. Another suggest that helping may maximize the survival odds of every member of a society. To improve your own prospects by contributing to the well-being of a strong collective sounds pretty Utopian. Several research studies within the last ten years suggest that giving is rewarding; pleasure centers and areas of the brain that promote social bonding light up when we give. It may, in fact, be our need for strong interpersonal relationships that incline us toward giving.

In one experiment, even though they knew that the money would come from their own “reward” accounts, subjects nevertheless decided to make a donation to a charity, which ran counter to their immediate “self-interest.” For many people, what happens in the brain when we give to charity is actually similar to ingesting an addictive drug or learning you’ve received a winning lottery ticket, suggests one of the researchers, Bill Harbaugh, of the University of Oregon.

Even if it turns out that we’re hard-wired for giving, we shouldn’t minimize the effects that other people’s behavior, our environments and our cherished values have on the extent to which we act on our generous thoughts and inclinations.  That research is suggesting that healthy self-interest and generosity are not strange bedfellows is the best news around!

To read more about this research, click here.


By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Read More