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Paying taxes, according to the brain, can bring satisfaction

Want to light up the pleasure center in your brain? Just pay your taxes, and then give a little extra voluntarily to your local food bank. University of Oregon scientists have found that doing those deeds can give you the same sort of satisfaction you derive from feeding your own hunger pangs.

A three-member team a cognitive psychologist and two economists published its results in the June 15 issue of the journal Science. The scientists gave 19 women participants $100 and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they watched their money go to the food bank through mandatory taxation, and as they made choices about whether to give more money voluntarily or keep it for themselves.

The participants lay on their backs in the fMRI scanner for an hour-long session and viewed the financial transfers on a computer screen. The scanner used a super-cooled magnet, carefully tuned radio waves and powerful computers to calculate what parts of the brain were active as subjects saw their money go to the food bank and made yes or no decisions on additional giving.

Researchers found that two evolutionarily ancient regions deep in the brain the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens fired when subjects saw the charity get the money. The activation was even larger when people gave the money voluntarily, instead of just paying it as taxes. These brain regions are the same ones that fire when basic needs such as food and pleasures (sweets or social contact) are satisfied.

The surprising element for us was that in a situation in which your money is simply given to others where you do not have a free choice you still get reward-center activity, said Ulrich Mayr, a professor of psychology. I dont think that most economists would have suspected that. It reinforces the idea that there is true altruism where its all about how well the common good is doing. Ive heard people claim that they dont
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
14-Jun-2007


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