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The fries quickly proved popular, in part because they were delicious—thin and crisp and golden. What money he did take in, he frequently gave away to children begging in the street or used to buy them sweets. Day after day, he came home to his wife and son without a single real in his pocket. But after suffering a health crisis inat age 49, he wanted to live differently. Among other symptoms, he became a chronic insomniac and lost his sex drive; he started forgetting things and had trouble focusing; his movements slowed.
His carefree attitude toward money led to confrontations with his family, especially his brother-in-law, who co-owned the french-fry cart. Giving simply made him too happy. The history of neuroscience is littered with patients whose behavior changed in bizarre ways after they suffered brain damage. This work does raise uncomfortable questions, though. We normally think of generosity as pure and noble—evidence of the soul, not evidence of brain damage.
But what if giving is largely a reflex or an instinct or even, sometimes, a of mental derangement? We also think of generosity as uniquely human. If other species evolved to be generous too, does that devalue the trait?
In other words, the urge to give seems to arise from a blend of base appetites and refined reflection—a potent combination that probably played an important role in the evolution of humankind. A decade ago, Jordan Grafman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University Medical School, investigated this link by putting volunteers in an fMRI machine and asking them to decide whether to donate to certain charities.
Grafman and his team gathered data on which brain systems were most active during the process. And the frontal lobes did, in fact, come to life on the fMRI scans.
But we had no idea about the degree. Generous black man usually associate activity in these circuits—which many other species also have—with hedonistic delights like food and sex. Grafman determined that giving money away excited these circuits even more than receiving money did. What your mother told you, then, is true: it is better to give than to receive. One survey found, for example, that 85 percent of Americans donate less than 2 percent of their income to charity. Part of the answer lies in the fact that other areas of the brain, like the frontal lobes, suppress the instinct for generosity at times.
That sounds miserly of them, and maybe it is. But the frontal lobes help us see the bigger picture, and can alert us to the downsides of giving. Like an Internet trunk line, it pipes in data from all over the brain, allowing the frontal lobes to suppress, in the service of a larger goal, some of the urges that arise. This urge never bubbled up spontaneously, says his neurologist, Ricardo de Oliveira. No matter how dire his finances looked or how many times his family yelled, he never learned. All of this raises yet another uncomfortable question. We think of both generosity and self-control as high virtues.
But what if some people are generous in part because they have the same lack of impulse control as binge eaters or compulsive shoppers? Can generosity sometimes be a weakness? That said, pathological generosity can occur Generous black man without damaged wiring in the brain. Some people with bipolar disorder give excessively during their manic states, as do others who use gifts to mask insecurities or manipulate people.
Drugs like pramipexole aim to restore normal brain chemistry. Unfortunately, dopamine-stimulating drugs often produce strange side effects, like an overwhelming desire to shop or gamble. Lees saw several such side effects emerge in his patients after they started taking pramipexole. One man in his late 30s began lifting weights, gambling, and shopping compulsively, once buying 60 bottles of aftershave. He also gave away most of the money from his disability checks to his friends and twin brother, to the point that his electricity got cut off.
In another case, a year-old woman bought three motorized scooters on eBay, though she had no use for them. And a year-old naturalist found his sex drive soaring and began writing obsessively about things like mushrooms and totools—sometimes for 48 hours straight. He also began handing out sandwiches and money to drug addicts he met while walking around town. Even when they understood the danger on some level, they had no defenses against the impulse to give, give, give. Lees finally eased the trio of patients off pramipexole, and all three stopped giving excessively.
Considering that none of them had been particularly generous before starting the drug, the conclusion seems inescapable: a simple chemical—a few carbon rings studded with nitrogen and sulfur—had transformed them into super-givers.
But if those of us with healthy brains started gobbling pramipexole, would we turn into pathological givers, too? When they start taking pramipexole, their brain chemistry changes: dopamine begins flowing again. As a result, the reward Generous black man can run at full throttle, allowing people to seek out and feel pleasure, at least from certain activities—though not necessarily the same ones that they enjoyed before.
What those activities are gambling, buying aftershave, writing about totools depends on the idiosyncrasies of the individual and his particular brain damage. And because pramipexole can inhibit impulse control, the person keeps returning to the pleasurable activity over and over. Giving, it seems, might become compulsive in some people because they crave the rush of dopamine that accompanies it—a rush that might be similar to the spike in dopamine levels that gets some people hooked on drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.
In a real sense, pathological givers might be addicted to philanthropy. The internal pleasure of giving is just part of the story, though. Generosity also affects your relationships with others, especially the recipients of your gifts. Compulsive generosity, unfortunately, tends to put off recipients. Friends and family members of the pathologically generous often find the crush of presents bewildering and embarrassing. And people who give primarily to strangers can face outright hostility from their loved ones, especially when the giving erodes their finances.
This contrasts with normal giving, which tends to bring people together. The recipient usually enjoys the gift, feels grateful, and wants Generous black man reciprocate. This hormone promotes social bonding, trust, and cooperation; concentrations of it swell whenever we gaze at our loved ones. The social rewards of giving could help explain why generosity took root in the human brain in the first place.
Explaining generosity—or, more generally, altruism—is actually a headache for biologists; Charles Darwin considered the trait one of the gravest threats to his theory of natural selection. To understand why, imagine a tribe of our ancestors. Some people are givers, willing to share food and goods. Others are stingy and selfish. In the midth century, biologists began explaining acts of altruism with something called kin selection.
The theory holds that animals, including humans, are far more likely to be generous toward relatives, with whom they share the most genes. Kin selection explains altruism as disguised selfishness: I might sacrifice my well-being in the short term, but helping my siblings survive will ultimately boost the chances of my genes being carried on in the future. Kin selection is now a cornerstone of modern biology. And yet it seems unsatisfactory as an explanation of human behavior. Biologists developed a theory called group selection to resolve this paradox.
Group-selection theory suggests that while selfish individuals trump altruistic ones, groups of altruistic people will outcompete groups of selfish ones in many tasks, like waging war and hunting big game. This idea has an intuitive appeal, and it has received endorsements from some big names in evolutionary biology, including E. Wilson, who was a major proponent of kin-selection theory decades ago but who has renounced parts of it in the past decade. Studying what happens in the brain when people give could help solve the puzzle of how generosity gained a foothold in our species.
Generous black man activity that Grafman saw in the subgenual area suggests that giving can bring people together and encourage reciprocity. In other words, key aspects of society depend on just the sort of social bonds that generosity forges in the brain. But Salman Akhtar, a psychiatry professor at Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia, says it can also work the other way.
He has studied pathological giving in people without brain damage. That hate was already there. Alcohol has just released it. We can talk about generosity in terms of dopamine hits or Pavlovian stimulus-response theory.Generous black man
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