Is your New Year’s resolution to be a nicer, better person in 2018? If so, you’ll want to take up writing.
You don’t have to be an author to reap the benefits of this pastime. Rather, all it takes is simply writing down the things (and people) you are grateful for in a journal.
Researchers from the University of Oregon have been studying the effects of this type of journaling, and have seen that women, especially, portray more altruistic behavior afterward.
Before the study, participants took part in MRI scans and answering questionnaires. During the MRI, researchers were studying the participants’ brain signals as the participants viewed a monetary transaction being given to either a food bank, or to themselves.
According to Medical News Today:
“We found that across the whole group at the first session, people who reported more altruistic and grateful traits showed a reward-related brain response when the charity received money that was larger than when they received the money themselves,” notes Karns.
The MRI measured “the metabolism of oxygen in active brain cells.” The results revealed that in an area deep inside the brain that has previously been associated with altruism — called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex — there was an increase in altruism-related activity.
To study journaling’s impact on altruism, the researchers randomly put 33 participants into two groups. The first group wrote in an online journal every day, responding to questions about gratitude.
The second group also wrote in an online journal, but gave responses to questions that had no connection to gratitude.
After three weeks, the participants had another MRI test done to determine their brain’s reaction to a monetary transaction given to either themselves or to a food bank.
The researchers made an interesting discovery:
“Karns and colleagues’ findings support the notion that the region of the brain that is involved with feelings of reward is flexible, which allows it to alter in values of a “neural currency” that is related to feelings of altruism. “Our findings suggest that there’s more good out there when there is gratitude,” says Karns.”
“We found that activity recorded in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex shifted in the people in the gratitude-journaling group.”
Christina M. Karns
She adds, “This group, as a whole, increased that value signal toward the charity getting the money over watching themselves get the money as if they were more generous toward others than themselves.”