Functional MRI shows generosity sparking happiness

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Researchers have found a link in the brain between giving and contentment, observing an increase in neural activity when participants were deciding to treat someone to something nice and feeling good about it.

The findings were published online July 11 in Nature Communications.

Soyoung Park, PhD, of the University of Lübeck in Germany and colleagues randomly assigned 50 volunteers to spend 25 Swiss francs per week for four weeks either on others (experimental group) or on themselves (control group).

The members of the experimental group not only self-reported stronger increases in happiness but also showed—on functional MRI, while promising to buy someone dinner or give another gift—greater engagement of the temporo-parietal junction and differently modulated connectivity between that region and the ventral striatum.

“Importantly, striatal activity during generous decisions is directly related to changes in happiness,” the authors explain, adding that their findings “demonstrate that top-down control of striatal activity plays a fundamental role in linking commitment-induced generosity with happiness.”

Nature Communications is an open-access journal. Click here to read the full study.