Jorge Moll: Biological Morals

In 2006, Neuroscientist Jorge Moll and his partner, Jordan Grafman, had conducted an experiment intent on finding the differences between giving to others and keeping things to oneself. Many volunteers were called upon for this experiment, which had them choosing whether to donate the money they received from the experiment, or to simply pocket it all. The volunteers brains were carefully scanned so as to see any chemical and physical changes as these actions took place. What was found had Jorge Moll excited.

The volunteers that decided to donate the money to various charities of their choosing had an interesting brain activity; the area nearest the forehead, the prefrontal cortex, lit up just as it did for those who decided to keep the cash. However, other parts of the brain that light up when humans receive positive stimulation, such as sex or food, also became active. Those who chose to keep the money did not have this stronger reaction, showing that, by giving the money to charitable causes, the brain receives a far strong reward stimulation.

Jorge Moll and his partner, Grafman, have determined that those who give more, who behave in a way that is more “morally acceptable“, receive the bigger rewards physically and mentally. Jorge Moll speculates that through this experiment, they can say that there are many moral impulses -especially giving- are biological. Our brains make us feel good when we give, making it a win-win situation for both parties involved.

Jorge Moll points out that this is hardly the first times humans have said that giving to others is a great way to feel good, as many spiritual/religious leaders have also stated such. Jorge Moll refers to Saint Francis of Assisi, who has said “For it is in giving that we receive.”

Experiments conducted by many others are also referenced, particularly one in which rats have proven to be empathetic to each other; going as far as refusing to eat so that another rat is spared an electric shock (

Jorge Moll is far from done with researching this subject, but he has provided the public with something to think about when it next comes time to helping others.


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