Stephanie Brown, an associate professor in the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, is one of nine researchers from the United States and Great Britain to receive the 2010 Science of Generosity Award, issued by the University of Notre Dame. Brown received the award for her research that will use neuroimaging to test whether generosity is related to parental instincts. The award includes a two-year $150,000 grant.
The Science of Generosity Initiative is funded by the John Templeton Foundation to Christian Smith, Director of the University of Notre Dame Center for the Study of Religion and Society. 2010 marks the second year the initiative awarded top researchers who use scientifically rigorous methods from a variety of diverse perspectives to study the origins, manifestations, and consequences of generosity. This year, the Initiative received 327 proposals by scholars. Only nine received awards.
Brown’s research for the award is titled “The Neural Circuitry Underlying Altruistic Behavior.” Through neuroimaging and behavioral methods, she and her co-investigator James Swain at the University of Michigan, will examine how altruistic behavior engages a suite of cognitions, emotions, and neurophysiological circuitry that amount to a caregiving behavioral system that motivates parental and other forms of caretaking behavior.
“We will randomly assign individuals to help others and determine whether helping behavior recruits brain regions that have been identified as part of the neurohormonal basis of maternal care,” said Brown.
Her Science of Generosity project also fits within her research program, demonstrating health benefits of helping others, including showing that helping behavior is related to longevity. The project may help to understand more about the mechanism for this effect.
Much of Brown’s research focuses on the neuro-affective mechanisms underlying altruistic and pro-social behavior. She has received grants from the National Science Foundation to examine the physiological consequences of helping others. More broadly, Brown and colleagues at Stony Brook and from the University of Michigan are designing research to shed light into the mechanisms underlying a caregiving motivational system, including its evolutionary origins and its implications for compassionate care, medicine, economic behavior, conflict, and other attitudes and behaviors.
In spring 2011, Brown will have an edited volume, “Moving Beyond Self Interest: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology, Neuroscience, and the Social Sciences.” The book includes new models of human caregiving and describes implications of this new field for economics, social policy, and political science.