Saturday, October 15, 2016
ALTRUISM AND AGING
Lost Everything, Chicago, IL
Recent technical developments in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of our human brains have opened up all sorts of fascinating insights into our human behavior. A recent study in the AARP Bulletin revealed that “more than half of all donations to charity are made by those over sixty. And it’s not just because those people have more money”. The article noted a study at the University of Oregon of volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 67 where they were shown money going either to charity or to themselves while being monitored with an MRI.
MRI scans have showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activate the primitive mesolimbic reward pathway of our brain. However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, the subgenual cortex/septal region was also activated. This area is intimately related to social attachment and bonding. The experiment suggested that selfless altruism, caring about the welfare of other people and acting to help them, was basically hardwired in the brain and pleasurable. It is usually contrasted with egoism, which is defined as acting to the benefit of one's self.
Altruism is central to the teachings of Jesus found in scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount. Love and compassion are components of all forms of Buddhism and are focused on all beings equally: love is the wish that all beings be happy, and compassion is the wish that all beings be free from suffering.
The AARP study found that the brain’s reward areas tended to become more active in volunteers over 45 when they saw money go to charity. It became more active when the money went to themselves in the younger volunteers. The article concluded that “your odds of experiencing suffering and others’ suffering goes up the longer that you’re around. As a result, you become more benevolent, more altruistic as you get older.”
And that’s a good thing, as folks over sixty have hopefully had a lifetime to earn, save and invest and they’re now in a position to transition from lives of success to lives of significance. This fourth period of life enables reflection and experience to give back and help those that are now in struggling stages that they quite possibly emerged from as they themselves sailed on the storms of life.