The Science of Giving – Professor Michael Nilsson

Dec 16 2013

Lions 2013

Michael (far right) with HMRI supporters from the Lions District 201N3 Diabetes Foundation and researcher Dirk van Helden

At HMRI events, we sometimes invite people to say a few words about what motivates them to support HMRI as donor, or to work here as a medical researcher.

It is clear reminder that we all are very linked by a strong desire to defeat disease and to promote health. But not only that – as you all know, there is a science behind everything, and I’m a neuroscientist so I couldn’t help myself.

For the 2013 HMRI Awards Night I have dug into the science of donations – the science of giving.

Giving improves physical and mental health, enhances communal bonds, spreads wealth, and best of all it’s contagious.

If we dig into the literature, we can actually see that recent science suggests there is a biological basis for it as well.

Back in 2006 a couple of researchers from the National Institutes for Health in the US showed that mesolimbic structures in the brain are activated when you give. And those areas…do you know what they are?

They are very basic, primitive areas that produce dopamine and they are related to the rewards of our organism. So we feel rewarded, we feel good when we are giving … giving money for instance.

And not only that, can you believe that there are some genetics coupled to this as well? So if you are gifted with a particular type of gene (or genes), you are actually more likely to be generous.

I am rather convinced that 100% of us have that variance, that all those related to HMRI have that DNA amongst us, which is absolutely fantastic.
So, we are neurologically programmed – and biochemically by the way, because we get an evolutionary advantage by strengthening social bonds which also helps us to ensure the survival of the group.

Do you agree? I hope so.

In general, researchers want to push ahead, driven by curiosity and the quest for knowledge. I know that the community is backing the research, and I know how much that means to the 1,200 researchers that we organise under this umbrella of HMRI.

I see it every day.

I see it at the University campus, I see it here at HMRI, I see it Calvary Mater Newcastle and I see it at the hospitals – researchers who are all devoted, single-minded, to helping people and changing the landscape of medical health and providing hope.

We have defined in our strategic plan, and have the slogan, “Leading research for life-changing results.”

That is clearly the goal we have been achieving. We had had tremendous success in 2013 in the funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, and at the 2013 HMRI Awards Night we again have had tremendous success.

Again, I want to thank the donors sincerely for what you do for researchers, and in turn, the re-giving is giving back to the community – and I’m sure this has created a massive dopamine release in those brains of the researchers as well.

So thank you very much. That is an amazing commitment and we thank you all.