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Here’s something that doesn’t make sense (cents) — paying your taxes can be satisfying.

Researchers at the University of Oregon gave 19 women participants $100 and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they watched their money go to the food bank through mandatory taxation, and as they made choices about whether to give more money voluntarily or keep it for themselves.

They found that two regions in the brain – the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens – fired when subjects saw the charity get the money. The activation was even larger when people gave the money voluntarily, instead of just paying it as taxes. These brain regions are the same ones that fire when basic needs such as food and pleasures are satisfied.

The study, according to one of the researchers, reflects the balancing act that every society must face. “What this shows to someone who designs tax policy is that taxes aren’t all bad,” Ulrich Mayr, professor of psychology, said. “Paying taxes can make citizens happy. People are, to varying degrees, pure altruists. On top of that they like that warm glow they get from charitable giving. Until now we couldn’t trace that in the brain.”

For a more complete description of the study, click here.

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