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Tzedakah or genetics?  Hebrew University identifies possible ‘generosity gene’

by JewishJournal.com

December 11, 2007 | 10:03 pm


You give because it’s a mitzvah, your religious side says (because it’s the right thing to do, adds your inner ethicist.)

That’s what we like to think—it’s certainly what we tell ourselves.

But what if all our self-congratulation covers up the real truth?  Check this out (from ScienceDaily.com):

Generosity May Be Genetically Programmed

Are those inclined towards generosity genetically programmed to behave that way? A team of researchers, including Dr. Ariel Knafo of the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, believes that this could very well be the case.

Through an online task involving making a choice whether or not to give away money, the researchers found that those who chose to give away some or all of their money differed genetically from those involved in the exercise who chose not to give their money away.

The scientists conducted the experiment with 203 online “players”. Each player could choose to keep the equivalent of $12 he was allocated, or to give all or part of it to an anonymous other player.

Those involved also provided DNA samples which were analyzed and compared to their reactions. It was found that those who had certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a (photomicrographic image above) gave on average nearly 50 percent more money than those not displaying that variant.

You can read more here.

Do variants in the AVPR1a make kavanah/intention less valid, replacing instinct with intent? Surely good instincts can’t be bad?

And what of free will?

All things to ponder next time you see a tzedakah box, or get that phone call.

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