Generous people really do listen to their hearts, scientists find

Charitable people are believed to be better at detecting their own heartbeats than more selfish individuals.

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, scientists believe.

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.

Scientists say generous people are better at detecting their own heartbeats than more selfish individuals (Yodiyim/Getty Images)

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% better at detecting their heartbeats gave away £5 more on average than other players.

Dr Jane Aspell, from Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Our results showed an association between sensitivity to heartbeats and generosity, but more research is needed to understand why this relationship exists.

“It may be that an emotionally-charged situation – such as deciding whether or not to give money away – causes a change in heartbeat. This bodily change may then bias decision-making towards the generous option in those people who are better at detecting their heartbeats.

stethoscope on the ECG.
Decisions resulting from emotionally-charged situations causes a change in heartbeat, researchers say (Sudok1/Getty Images)

“These findings suggest that, in some sense, people ‘listen to their heart’ to guide their selfless behaviours.”

The game had parallels with real-life charitable giving by donors to recipients they do not know, said the scientists.

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.”

The findings appear in the appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

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