Texas Tech University

Grim Givers: How Thoughts of Death Open Wallets

New York Observer

April 2, 2015

New York Observer - Can thinking about death make us more generous charitable givers? Studies seem to suggest it does. One found that just standing near a funeral home increased people's philanthropic intentions. And, remember Ebenezer Scrooge? After his encounter with a ghost—who points a bony finger at a tomb on which his name is engraved—Dickens' famous miser becomes the soul of generosity.

A study of charitable decisions that used functional MRI technology (which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow) found that bequest decisions prompted higher activation in the precuneus and lingual gyrus of the brain than thoughts about regular giving and volunteering.

The precuneus (often known as "the mind's eye") and lingual gyrus relate to self-reflection, thoughts of the recent death of a loved one, and life memories. "Neuroimaging shows that when people think about this, they are engaging in an autobiographical review," says Russell James of Texas Tech University, who conducted the study with his colleague Michael O'Boyle.

Read more about James' study.