Jorge Moll: Why Doing Good Feels Good

When we think of neuroscientists, images of heroes don’t often come to mind immediately. Not so when it comes to Dr. Jorge Moll (Infomoney).

Jorge Moll has collaborated with other neuroscientists for years in the study of altruism and its effects on the human brain. Altruism, or the “devotion to the welfare of others,” has now been scientifically proven to positively alter the brain chemistry of the person performing the act of kindness. Dr. Moll’s initial inspiration for this study came in the aftermath of a devastating catastrophe in 2004 when a series of deadly tsunamis struck 14 countries, killing more than 250,000 people on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It was Jorge Moll that noticed, despite the trauma suffered by so many, there were remarkable neurological changes occurring in the brains of the people helping.

In 2006, Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman, neuroscientists at the National Institute of Health, were in the process of studying brain activity of subjects regarding volunteerism. This led to more in-depth studies which revealed that the neurons in the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain were significantly activated during acts of generosity and charitable giving. This is the same area of the brain that responds positively to other gratifying activities such as sex, food or receiving money. In other words, donating time or money to a worthy cause triggers our brains’ subgenual reward center, the same sensation of pleasure humans feel when encountering a romantic partner or seeing a baby. According to Moll, “doing good can make [us] feel good.”

These experiments by Moll and Grafman that began in 2006 revealed the first scientific evidence that there is a biological reaction which occurs in the human brain that accompanies the joy of giving. Their experiment proves that generosity is not simply a conscious decision – it is hard-wired in our brains to be so. This not only helps those in need, it is also beneficial – pleasurable, in fact – to the person giving. Perhaps it can be said that Jorge Moll’s discovery is an act of altruism itself, for in his own way he has motivated the rest of us to think of others more often.