The glow of kindness is real — even if it has nothing in it for you. Psychologists have confirmed the same by undertaking a major analysis of existing research showing the brain scans relating to over 1,000 people making kind decisions.
For the first time, they split the analysis between what happens in the brain when people act out of genuine altruism — where there’s nothing in it for them and when they act with strategic kindness when there is something to be gained as a consequence.
Many individual studies have hinted that generosity activates the reward network of the brain but this new study is the first that brought these studies together, and then split the results into two types of kindness — altruistic and strategic.
The researchers found that reward areas of the brain are more active, use up more oxygen when people act with strategic kindness when there is an opportunity for others to return the favor. But they also found that acts of altruism, with no hope of personal benefit, activate the reward areas of the brain too, and more than that, that some brain regions were more active during altruistic generosity, indicating that there is something unique about being altruistic with no hope of gaining something in return.
Lead author Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn said, “We know that people can choose to be kind because they like feeling like they are a ‘good person’, but also that people can choose to be kind when they think there might be something ‘in it’ for them such as a returned favor or improved reputation.”
The full findings are present in the journal — NeuroImage.