Is it really better to give than to receive?

Tabitha Gan is undergoing internship at the Science Centre Singapore (SCS) in December 2014. She has written this blog post during her internship at SCS.

The psychosocial and physical benefits of gift-giving

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The phrase “It is better to give than to receive” has been quoted umpteen times and is used often as a way of soliciting donations. Most people assume there is no solid truth to these words. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. Giving incurs cost. Receiving results in benefits. Correct? Not quite.

Turns that there is evidence to show that indeed, it is better to give than to receive. Various researchers have done experiments on the benefits of giving and found out that giving can benefit health, reduce stress levels, increase happiness, and even lower the risk of mortality.

Neurological studies have shown that when giving to charity, certain areas of the brain are activated- areas associated with reward and the release of certain neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and dopamine- that provide the feel-good sensation people get after doing a charitable act.

It doesn’t have to be in monetary terms- gifting others with your time works too! Researcher Michael Poulin and his colleagues conducted a study that showed the beneficial effects of helping behaviours (i.e. helping others with errands, housework or childcare) on the health and stress levels of elderly couples, and found that participating in helping behaviours buffered stress and was associated with lower mortality rates. Being the first study of this kind, the researchers also encouraged more research to follow up on this finding to further confirm their findings.

A series of experiments by researchers Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Atkin and Michael Norton from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School demonstrated that when given a sum of money to spend, although people thought that spending the money on themselves would make them happier, it was those who spent the money on others that were happier. In a related study where spending habits of participants were studied, the researchers found that the amount of spending on others and not the amount spent on self was significantly related to general happiness.

Moral of story – give. It’s good for you.


Want to know more on how different behaviours can affect your brain? Come down to the Brain exhibition at the Science Centre Singapore to experience the brain for yourself! 🙂


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