12/02/2010 04:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are We Predisposed To Give Back? New Studies Examine Why We Help Others

The University of Notre Dame is leading a $5 million initiative to examine why people are more or less inclined to give back, according to USA Today.

The Science of Generosity Initiative, which launched in 2009, is funding studies -- economical, sociological, neurological and psychological -- that will help us understand humans' altruistic tenancies (or lack thereof).

Christian Smith, Notre Dame professor and project director, told USA Today:

Researchers are exploring the connection between parts of the brain that support parental caregiving and generosity and examining whether people who have strong connections with others are more likely to give.

Worldwide research projects have taken off, thanks to grants from the initiative, that include "The Family Cycle of Kindness and Generosity" and "Does Microfinancing Promote Generosity?"


Smith told USA that some facts are already known:

  • There are different kinds of giving. People give for strategic, altruistic, sentimental, impulsive, habitual or ideological reasons.
  • People who are religious tend to give more.
  • People who have more money don't necessarily donate more. The opposite is often true.
  • Generosity is good for you: Senior citizens who volunteer live longer.
  • Holiday giving often is strategic and motivated more by year-end tax deductions than the sentiments of the season.
  • People who plan donations give more than those who don't.
  • Guilt isn't a great motivator.

But that's just the start, Smith says. The new studies will reveal what psychologically and environmentally inspires people to be more charitable.

Read more about the initiative at USA Today.