Charitable donating through food

People’s willingness to donate money to a charity increases after eating food that contains the amino acid tryptophan, found in fish, soya, eggs and spinach. Leiden psychologists Laura Steenbergen and Lorenza Colzato published their findings in Frontiers in Psychology.

Serotonin has a positive effect on charitable donating

Steenbergen and her fellow researchers were the first to investigate whether tryptophan, that stimulates the production of serotonin, has a positive effect on charitable donating. It was already known that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a role in social co-operation. 'The willingness to donate money to a charity is an essential component of prosocial behavior and a key determinant of social reliability' says Steenbergen.

Donating Task

To determine the effect of tryptophan, the researchers gave one group of test persons orange juice with added tryptophan, while a second group was given a placebo. Subsequently, the test persons after having received 10 Euros for their participation in the study, were left alone and asked whether they were willing to donate part of their financial reward to charity (Unicef, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and WWF).

Inexpensive, efficient and healthy

Laura Steenbergen, MSc

Laura Steenbergen, MSc

Test persons gave significantly more money to charity when they had taken tryptophan, compared to persons who had been administered a neutral placebo. Steenbergen: 'These results support the idea that “we are what we eat”: the food we eat may act as a social enhancer that modify the way we deal with the “social” world supporting the prosocial behavior of charity.'

See also


Last Modified: 16-12-2014