Is Altruism Our True Nature?

We all know that giving of ourselves unselfishly is a good thing to do, because it helps others and it’s what we’ve always been taught. So, it stands to reason that we should have empathy for others and give of our time and money because it’s the right thing to do. It’s all about self sacrifice, right? Interestingly, though there’s definitely a strong argument for giving to others, scientists are now learning that there are actually built in biological rewards for altruism, so helping other people doesn’t actually have to be all about self sacrifice.

The Actual Science Behind Altruism

Neuroscientists working with The National Institute of Health, Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman, conducted two studies back in 2006 that examined the effects of altruistic thoughts and actions on brain activity. What was found was that acting charitably towards others actually stimulates the area in the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, that brings on warm, happy feelings. Scientists call this the “warm glow” effect that comes after doing kind, selfless acts for others. Amazingly, Dr. Moll also found that these warm feelings can last for several weeks (Romaleke). Though this effect has been discovered in earlier studies, the work done by Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman powerfully underlined the impact of this “warm glow.”

Dr. Moll has said that the studies really point to the reality of a “joy in giving,” and the fact that our bodies and minds seem to be wired to do good for others. This is an interesting point, as the overriding view of many in our society is that we are more likely to be biologically programmed to have a Darwinian attitude of “survival of the fittest,” dictating that our selfish natures override all other considerations. These newer findings by Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman, however, point to instinctive altruism as a key part of our natures, built in so that we will care for our helpless offspring and nurture them until they are able to survive on their own.