Jorge Moll and Why we get the Warm Glow of Giving

If the human brain has evolved for ultimate survival, why do we have charities and donate to others? Sacrificing of ourselves for the benefit of others seems counter-intuitive to our survival instincts. Jorge Moll has made significant progress into understanding the science behind human morality with a study on what happens when we donate to charity (

Jorge Moll is the president of D’Or Institute of Research and Education, and director for the Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Unit. He graduated with an MD in Neuroscience and received residency from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Giving to charity is a concept that scientists puzzled over for years. Giving away what we have is against the human drive to survive, so what are we doing it for? In 1989, the warm-glow feeling was first introduced. When test subjects were asked why they gave to charities, they described a warm glow they received when they donated. In his 2006 study, Jorge Moll discovered something important to back that up. His test subjects were given a sum of money and prompted with questions that forced them to either donate their money to various charities, or keep it for themselves. He watched what part of their brain “lit up” whenever they agreed to donate. The part of the brain that activated when the subjects donated is called the prefrontal cortex. This same area lights up for typical pleasures, such as delicious food or sex, and is called a reward center. The study showed that when the test subjects gave their money away to others rather than keep it for themselves, they activated “feel-good” responses in the brain.

Fascinated by the results Jorge Moll determined that the warm-glow feeling from giving to charity was indeed a biological response, not just an emotional one. We are hardwired to respond to charity the same way we respond to sex and food, it just feels good. Altruism is a part of our brain’s makeup. We sacrifice and donate to others because it gives us pleasure to do so.