I was struck by a Wall Street Journal article that explains recent neuroscientist and NIH studies, which investigate where empathy and generosity originate in the brain. Dr. Grafman and his colleague, Jorge Moll, were referenced in the article. Grafman is at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and is director of brain injury research. They found that when subjects donated to what they considered worthy organizations, brain scans revealed that “parts of the midbrain lit up – the same region that controls cravings for food and sex, and the same region that became active when subjects added money to their personal reward accounts.”
One of the most memorable results was what happened when subjects decided to make a donation, even when they knew it was going to cost them money from their personal reward accounts. In these scenarios, a brain area called the anterior prefrontal cortex lit up, a region that is responsible for complex judgements and decision making. These subjects were willing to give even when they knew it would cost them, indicating that this segment of the brain may help us decide to behave generously when doing so runs counter to our immediate self-interest.
What I found interesting about this article is that the research supports that generosity is not just a willful action, but it is something ingrained in our anatomy. Of course, with a biblical worldview, this is easier to explain. After all, we are made in the image of a creator God who, at His very core, is generous. And, while we are hardwired to “do unto others” in a multitude of ways, we also have the power over whether to take advantage of those natural capabilities or let them wither away. When our immediate circumstances don’t want to give, how we are designed tells us otherwise. After all, Acts 20:35 tells us “you are more blessed to give than receive.”