Giving from the Heart

Giving from the Heart: The Role of the Heart and the Brain in Virtuous Motivation and Integrity

co-PI: Mark Alfano, Ph.D.

Philosophy, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

(Email)

co-PI: Christina Karns, Ph.D.

Psychology, University of Oregon

(Email)

Ryan Guiliano

Psychology, University of Oregon

(Email)

Joshua Skorburg

Philosophy, University of Oregon

(Email)

Most people could point to someone they consider a model of integrity. But what does it mean to have integrity, and how do we tell whether someone has it? In this project, we understand an integrated self as one whose parts – especially its motivational parts – fit together harmoniously. Someone with an integrated self is better able to act in the face of conflicting incentives because her internal states consistently guide her in the same direction. If this is right, then a person of integrity should behave fluently when acting in accordance with her integrated self, feeling rewarded and relaxed. But when she is required to act against her integrated self, she should exhibit signs of stress and hesitation. By contrast, someone with a more-or-less disintegrated self should behave less fluently and effectively when acting in accordance with his values because some of his other mental states point him in another direction. And such a disintegrated person may also find it less stressful than the integrated person to act against the values he outwardly endorses, since at least some aspects of his self already incline in that direction. These predictions can be tested.

To test this hypothesis, we will conduct a series of studies aimed at measuring integrity in the context of generosity. We will measure physiological signals of stress, neural rewards, and generous giving. As a first pass, we will count someone as manifesting integrated generosity if their explicit values align with the implicit associations or automatic responses revealed by a battery of high-speed tasks. Explicit values will be measured by questionnaires, such as a new Fluent Generosity Questionnaire, which we are developing based on philosophical explorations of generosity. Implicit associations will be measured using three high-speed tasks: a Generous Attributes implicit association test (IAT), a Reward IAT, and what we call the “Piggybank Task.” The basic idea is that we can learn something about a persons generous responses by seeing how quickly and accurately she responds to quick sorting or target-detection tasks. For instance, we can see whether she implicitly associates her self more with generosity than stinginess, whether she implicitly associates rewards more with herself than she does with charities, and whether she focuses her attention on — and whether her brain is more rewarded by — gains to charity rather than gains to herself.

Together, explicit values and implicit associations allow us to measure integrated generosity: someone exhibits this virtue if both their explicit values and their implicit associations incline them towards generosity. Integrated and disintegrated generosity and selfishness, in turn, should lead to distinctive patterns of stress and neural reward processing when giving to or taking from charity, which we will measure in the lab using electrocardiogram (ECG) and electroencephalogram (EEG). Finally, these embodied signals should mediate the influence of the more-or-less integrated generous self on actual giving behavior, which we will also assess in the lab.

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