Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Taxation without Vexation

A new study published in Science suggests that paying your taxes might actually make you feel good. Researchers gave students at the University of Oregon $100, then recorded their brain activity when they were given the chance to make anonymous donations to a food bank with some of that money. When they made their donations, the areas of their brains that lit up were the same as those associated with pleasure and reward. That finding is consistent with similar research, such as that conducted by James Rilling of Emory University, suggesting a link between altruism and positive emotions.

But the researchers here also sometimes levied a tax on the money they'd given out, telling their participants the taxed money would also go to the food bank (which it did). They found that the brain activity was the same, though not as strong, as when people gave money on their own accord.

Reporting on this finding in today's The New York Times, John Tierney writes that the results "bolster the case for 'pure altruism'"--as opposed to altruistic acts performed for selfish motives--"because the student paying the tax could not take personal credit for deciding to feed the hungry." In other words, even though they received nothing in return for their money--not even recognition for their generosity or the personal satisfaction of knowing they'd tried to do something nice for others--the participants still felt good.

Tierney quotes Ulrich Mayr, one of the study's authors, as saying, "The most surprising result is that these basic pleasure centers in the brain don’t respond only to what’s good for yourself. ... They also seem to be tracking what’s good for other people, and this occurs even when the subjects don’t have a say in what happens.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

making the most of our sense of humor

Here's a link to an interesting article from the SF Chronicle that takes a closer look at how scientists are refining their understanding of how humor works, as well as offering some for helpful techniques for the humor-deprived. For more information on what makes us laugh, you might want to attend the upcoming conference of the International Society for Humor Studies.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

And our tagline is...

"The Science of a Meaningful Life"

That's the winner of Greater Good's first (and hopefully last) tagline contest.

We thank all the Greater Good readers who offered their creative tagline suggestions. There were several attractive tagline candidates in the running, but ultimately "The Science of a Meaningful Life" received the strongest support from Greater Good's staff, and it's easy to understand why: The term "meaningful life" seems to encompass compassion, happiness, empathy, social connection--no other single word or phrase works as well to capture what the magazine is all about. Plus, we appreciate the way that "science" and "meaningful life" play off each other: The broad idea of the "meaningful life" is nicely counterbalanced by the emphasis on rigorous "science." And the entire tagline conveys how Greater Good distinguishes itself from other publications: by applying scientific analysis to topics of personal importance to our readers.

Back in March we launched an online contest for readers to propose their own tagline. We were impressed by the range and originality of many of these suggestions. While we didn’t choose any of them verbatim, “The Science of a Meaningful Life” is very close to a tagline proposed by reader Sara Margulis, “Science for Life.” So Sara wins our tagline prize: A one-year subscription (gift or renewal) to Greater Good and a free book selection from our library. Congratulations Sara!

Thanks again to everyone who submitted an idea to Greater Good’s tagline contest.


The Greater Good staff