Jorge Moll Explains the Moral Brain

Dr. Jorge Moll’s groundbreaking work at the National Institute of Health validates what many people know about helping others. Dr. Moll and his research team used complex brain technology to evaluate subjects’ responses when they engaged in charitable giving. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), he was able to pinpoint where the urge to give originates in the brain. This work supported the existence of “warm glow” giving: the experience of a warm glow when people help others. In his groundbreaking 2006 paper entitled “Human fronto–mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Dr. Moll interpreted this as the “joy of giving.” An increase in the levels of dopamine, the pleasure transmitter, followed the action of giving. The increase occurred in areas of the brain that correlate with feelings of delight: the same parts of the brain that respond when we enjoy a favorite food or receive an unexpected gift.

Dr. Jorge Moll obtained a degree in medicine from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1994. He completed his medical residency in Neurology at the same university in 1998 and obtained a PhD in Experimental Pathophysiology at the Medical School of São Paulo University in 2004. Dr. Jorge Moll is the founder and currently the head of the D’Or Institute of Research and Education (IDOR) in Rio de Janeiro and the head of the Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Unit (CBNU) of the Institute. Dr. Moll has published extensively, with more than one hundred thirty-five books, book chapters and scholarly articles to his credit. He is fluent in English and Portuguese.

Dr. Jorge Moll has shown that there are multiple brain mechanisms that select for moral behavior over selfish behavior. Looking into the future, Dr. Moll predicts far-reaching impact of his research on psychiatric disorders such as anti-social personality disorder and depression, where the individual sometimes has difficulty behaving in an altruistic manner. Understanding the brain is the key to understanding ourselves.