Generous people really do ‘listen to their heart’

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  • Participants’ generosity increases with their ability to detect their heartbeat
  • Those better at detecting their heartbeat gave an additional £5 ($6.50)
  • An emotionally-charged situation – such as deciding whether or not to give money away – causes physiological changes 
  • Generous people could be better at responding to those changes

Phoebe Weston For Mailonline

Generous people really do give from the heart, research suggests.

They are better able to detect their own heartbeats than more selfish individuals, a study has shown.

And it could be that listening to their hearts prompts them to make charitable decisions because they are more sensitive to their emotions, scientists believe. 

A study found people who were on average 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeat gave away an additional £5 ($6.50) to the other participants.

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Generous people are literally more in touch with their own hearts, according to new research which found some people really are able to 'listen to their heart' (stock image)

Generous people are literally more in touch with their own hearts, according to new research which found some people really are able to 'listen to their heart' (stock image)

Generous people are literally more in touch with their own hearts, according to new research which found some people really are able to ‘listen to their heart’ (stock image)

WHAT DID THEY DO?

Participants were asked to take part in a computer-based game that involved repeated choices to share sums of money between themselves and another participant that they hadn’t met.

Their choices affected how much real money they and the other participant received at the end of the study. 

The game has similarities to real-life charitable giving, in which recipients are not personally known to donors.

They also took part in a heartbeat detection task, which involved having their own heartbeat (ECG) recorded. 

The participants then listened, without feeling their pulse, to a series of sounds that were either in time or out of time with their heartbeats. 

The study found that participants’ monetary generosity directly increases with their ability to detect their own heartbeat – those who were on average 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeat gave away an additional £5 ($6.50) to the other participants.

The study, carried out at Anglia Ruskin University and Stockholm University, is the first to find a possible physiological reason why some people are more charitable than others.  

‘Our results showed an association between sensitivity to heartbeats and generosity’, said co-author Dr Jane Aspell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University.

‘It may be that an emotionally-charged situation – such as deciding whether or not to give money away – causes a change in heartbeat’, she said. 

Psychologists made the discovery after asking volunteers to take part in a computer-based game that involved choosing whether or not to share money with a stranger.

The sensitivity of participants to their own body states was tested by playing them sounds that were either in or out of time with their heartbeats.

Greater generosity was found to coincide with a better ability to judge whether or not the sounds and heartbeats were synchronised.

Volunteers who were 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeats gave away £5 more on average than other players.

These findings suggest that, in some sense, people ‘listen to their heart’ to guide their selfless behaviours,’ added Dr Jane Aspell.

The game had parallels with real-life charitable giving by donors to recipients they do not know, said the scientists whose findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

During the tests heartbeats were recorded using an electrocardiogram (ECG) to pick up electrical activity with sensors attached to the skin.

Study co-author Dr Richard Piech, also from Anglia Ruskin University, said: ‘Despite clear biological and economic advantages of acting in self-interest, people consistently make decisions that benefit others, at a cost to themselves. 

‘Our study suggests that selfless acts may be influenced by signals from the body that reach the brain.’

Those who were on average 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeat gave away an additional £5 ($6.50) to the other participants, researchers found (stock image)

Those who were on average 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeat gave away an additional £5 ($6.50) to the other participants, researchers found (stock image)

Those who were on average 10 per cent better at detecting their heartbeat gave away an additional £5 ($6.50) to the other participants, researchers found (stock image)

PEOPLE ARE KINDER TO STRANGERS AS THEY GET OLDER

The older you get the more generous you become, according to a new study which examined how much money people are willing to donate to strangers. 

The findings suggest that altruism in later life may be an avenue for greater emotional gratification and a move away from purely personal interests, researchers say.

They believe that age-related changes in our brains and nervous system, perhaps accompanied by an increase in the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, may account for this increased generosity.

By understanding these changes, it could provide insights into how to keep older people healthy and stave off the onset of conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore wanted to understand why people tend to become more altruistic as they age.

Previous studies have shown that older people are more likely to volunteer, are more concerned about the environment and are less interested in becoming rich. 

They examined how social relationships influence how much money older adults would give to people in comparison with younger adults.

Two groups of 39 volunteers took part, one with an average age of 70 and another aged around 23. 

The psychologists found that, while older adults treat their family and friends the same as younger adults, they were more likely to donate to complete strangers.

This was true even when their generosity was unlikely to be reciprocated.