Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hard Wired for Giving and Touchscreen Toddlers: Great Info for Association Executives

Both illustrations courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
Two Wall Street Journal articles last Saturday are important readings for association executives and other nonprofit professionals.

Hard-wired for Giving shares recent research studies showing that the human brain is hard-wired for giving, altruism and helping others. 

  • The latest science shows that, in fact, we are also hard-wired to be generous. Social scientists have often wondered if humans by nature are altruistic. Continuing studies show that, indeed, we are.
  • Using tools like fMRI, scientists are identifying the precise circuits within the brain that control these nurturing social impulses. Where once there was only speculation about the origins of the human desire to help others, a body of data is starting to fill the gap, revealing key workings of the biological hardware that makes altruism possible. 
  • On balance, Dr. Harbaugh's work suggests that giving completely for its own sake—with absolutely zero expectation of pleasure or other reward in return—is rare. We are forever making complex calculations about whether or not to give in different situations, but whether or not our gift will help someone is far from the only factor we consider. The better we feel when we give, in general, the more often we do it. And as the Georgetown philosopher Judith Lichtenberg points out, even when we think we're giving with absolutely no expectation of reward, we can't be sure; our motivations (feeling good? looking good? gaining social leverage?) may be unconscious, inaccessible even to ourselves.

The second piece highlights Catherine Steinger-Adair’s book Touchscreen Toddlers and Instragram Teens.
  • Ironically, the technology that allows parents to work from home can disrupt the very bonding and modeling of behavior that the author believes are essential to brain health. The TV and house phone were inventions that we could walk away from, but today we are attached to our devices as if they were prosthetic extensions of our hearts and minds. One result is that some 4-year-olds can download apps before they can put on their own shoes. Technology has gained a "de facto coparenting role," the author notes.
  • Is Ms. Steiner-Adair's portrait of modern life, disrupted and impoverished by invasive technology, a compelling one? She isn't the first social observer to be skeptical of today's tech obsessions. Sherry Turkle, in "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other" (2012), sounded some of Ms. Steiner-Adair's themes. Technology's defenders, in turn, reply that the naysayers are overreacting and would never trade their own electronic devices for the "real life" of yesteryear. And besides, aren't tech-fluent kids with little patience for plodding methods at an advantage in today's economy? Certainly they are adept multitaskers whose time on computers is neurologically and psychologically "action packed"—entirely in keeping with our culture and the demands that adult life will put on them.
The first article provides information about donations and charitable support ... especially in light of threatened changes to the tax code with regard to charitable deductions.

The second piece helps us realize the impact of tech tools in the life of Americans who are candidates for future engagement with associations and nonprofits.

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