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Wish Blog

Nov 24, 2015

Giving Tuesday - Altruism Drives Human Behavior

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday
Over the last decade, Black Friday has become the biggest shopping day of the calendar year, attracting long lines of consumers to stores for deals just hours after giving thanks. Hot on the heels of Black Friday is Cyber Monday, and then comes the reconciliation of shopping, spending and guilt with a fairly new phenomenon called #GivingTuesday. Spurred by the hashtag #GivingTuesday, people around the world pledge to give, to help others less fortunate, to pay it forward in whatever way, by supporting charities and organizations large and small.

#GivingTuesday, now in its fourth year, kicks off the charitable season with a global day of giving, propelled by social media and the collective altruism of individuals, communities, and organizations. Providing donors with a 24-hour window to actively participate in acts of giving influences donations similar to how shoppers are driven by highly discounted prices on Black Friday or free shipping on Cyber Monday. 

“Black Friday is really quite brilliant,” said Elizabeth Goldsmith, a retail merchandising professor at Florida State University, who specializes in consumer behavior. “People find it exciting and fun and on top of it, most people are off from work. Humans have this material part of themselves, but there is this other part - like well-being, social connections, and quality of life for people, which is where Giving Tuesday comes in.”

The impetus to be altruistic is ingrained in our human biology. As a species, humans are highly cooperative and practice altruistic behaviors by using a scale to weigh their finances or time as a commodity. A recent study published by the American Psychological Association finds that achieving a sense of awe encourages altruistic behavior. Awe-inspiring experiences, such as observing views of the Grand Canyon, promote what psychologists call “pro-social behaviors.” 

“When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you're at the center of the world anymore,” said Paul Piff, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. “By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.”

In another recent study, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) studied how people make altruistic choices when money is involved. What does it take for a person to sacrifice a portion of their income, which ultimately means taking that dollar’s potential and allocating it for another person? In order to shed light on whether the mere act of behaving generously is rewarding or if people tend to struggle when parting with their money, researchers scanned the brains of 51 males as they made financial decisions. 

"We find that what matters is not whether you can exert self-control, but simply how strongly you consider others' needs relative to your own," said the study’s lead author Cendri Hutcherson, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. "Generosity is an inherently rewarding act. If you act generously then you see greater activity in areas of the brain that represent reward value.”

#GivingTuesday represents an opportunity to act on that innate generosity and in rewarding others, you reward yourself in turn. By focusing on the thoughts and experiences of others, researchers believe being charitable will feel less like a sacrifice and more like a personal reward.

Please join Make-A-Wish in this day to Give the Gift of A Wish on #GivingTuesday. 

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