Men's and women's brains react differently when helping others, study says

Posted at 6:41 PM, Oct 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-18 18:42:02-04

Are men and women’s brains hardwired differently when it comes to being generous to others?

A small study looking at how men and women’s brains differ found neural evidence that females are more sharing-oriented than males. 

Researchers in Europe devised experiments to see how dopamine could influence behavior in men and women. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter located in our brain that controls communication and is released during happy times.  

When it comes to sharing money, the study found that in the brain’s normal state, women were more likely to share while men were less likely to do so. 

When the brain’s normal dopamine system was disrupted through the use of a drug given to subjects, the results flipped. Men became more generous while women acted more selfishly. 

Brain imaging also showed that women experienced high levels of dopamine when doing something for others. Compared to men, this brain activity was much stronger when it came to making prosocial decisions.

We don’t know if this behavior is learned or hard-wired.  Regardless if you’re male or female, anyone can make conscious decisions to help others and still benefit emotionally.  So my prescriptions:

  1. You don’t need to make grand gestures, as you can gain happiness with small acts of kindness.  Try holding the door open for a stranger, complimenting a co-worker, or buying someone’s coffee.
  2.  Donate to charity, important causes, food banks or local shelters.  You can give money or offer items from home that you no longer need.
  3. Try volunteering in your community.  By helping others in need, you’ll get a fresh perspective on your own life and what’s important to you.   
  4. Be sure to give positive feedback to young boys and men for pro-social behavior.  Girls often hear praise for helping others which could potentially train the dopamine-based system to reward the brain for this behavior.

With different expectations placed on males and females, it’s not surprising that men and women’s brains appear to run differently.  But we can all cultivate compassion towards each other while reaping multiple health benefits. 

You can lower blood pressure, lessen stress, ease depression, all the while raising your self-esteem.