Table of Contents
Recently wire services all over the world carried the story of mysterious symptoms of a Brazilian man identified only as Mr. A, after he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, damage to part of his brain following a rupture to a blood vessel.
Losing a Job and Giving One's Possessions Away
According to news accounts, the 49-year-old Brazilian suffered damage to a "subcortical" part of his brain that controls executive function, the higher-level thinking we all do when we make various life decisions. Mr. A's brain functions seemed largely to have returned as he recovered from his stroke, except for excessive generosity.
Mr. A, his doctors told the press, made indiscriminate gifts of food, drink, and money after he left the hospital. Because of his compulsive generosity, he was let go from his managerial job with a major corporation.
Mr. A said he didn't care. "Life is too short," he told his doctors, to worry about material things.
Some doctors have commented that personality changes after stroke are common, although excessive generosity "appears to be unique." However, the phenomenon is not entirely unknown in brain science.
Excessive Generosity May Be a Problem with Impulse Control
In February 2013, scientists doing research at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands reported findings of their studies of excessive generosity in rodents. The Dutch researchers looked at the role of a part of the brain known as the amygdala in economic decisions. The amygdala as a whole, on the basis of studies with laboratory rodents, is well known as the part of the brain that exerts impulse control. In people, however, portions of the amygdala seem also to regulate trust.
Trustworthy people are likely to reciprocate when the tables are turned.
When a person who does not have a normally functioning amygdala meets a potential recipient of a gift or a potential partner in a business transaction, there may not be any thought given to whether the recipient or partner is trustworthy. This person may be disinclined to care whether the recipient of possessions will ever give them back, or whether the recipient is "worthy" of the gift.