Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: GENEROUS (10/31/19)
- TITLE: The Science of Giving
By Sandra Alsworth
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Sarah, the researcher first told her she could win money to give to a person who needed help or to keep for herself. Then Sarah asked her to rate some emotions. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat. Bi-bi-bi-bi-bi-bi-bi went the machine.
Sarah watched Emma through the window, smiling. On the MRI computer screen, she could see the lumpy bumpy lobes of Emma’s brain. The MRI used a powerful magnet to line up the protons her brain cells, and amazingly produced a picture of her brain activity with little flickers of light in the part of the brain being used. When Emma would speak, there was a flicker in the part of her brain that controlled movement of her mouth and another flicker in the part that controlled her language.
Different kinds of thoughts are produced in different parts of the brain. The same region of the brain that is activated when a parent cares for a child is also activated when a person is generous. Sarah drew closer to the screen, intrigued. When Emma chose to be generous, there was decreased activity in the part of her brain called the amygdala.
The amygdala is a small area that is the center of charged emotions, and anxiety lights it up. When under stress, the amygdala sounds the alarm and kicks off the fight-or-flight response in the body. People with anxiety, phobias or PTSD have a storm of activity in this area of the brain.
In this study, whenever the people in the MRI would choose to help others, the amygdala would chill out and be calmer. When the subjects were not being generous, there was no change in the amygdala.
Sarah was excited to see with the MRI actual changes in the brain associated with giving. She could add this to many other studies showing health benefits of being unselfish. One study showed generosity lowered blood pressure as much as medicine and exercise. Another showed a lowered risk of dementia and chronic pain. Yet another showed that giving time and money triggered feel-good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin. And finally, there was a study that showed that people who volunteered actually lowered their risk of dying.
Sarah knew that ideally, people should good things for others because it is the right thing to do, without expecting a return; however, she thought it was nice that our brains give us a little gift anyway. We help others, and our brain lowers our stress level. Win-win.
When Sarah arrived home that night, she picked up her Bible and opened it to Acts 20:35, “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Most Christians take that verse by faith, but it is fun to see how research agrees with those words spoken so long ago.
The science in this story is real. Emma and Sarah are not. I put them in to hopefully add a human aspect to the science. Acts 20:35 is from the NKJV.
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