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Planned 
            Giving 
           and The 
            Brain
Dr. Russell James
Dept. of Personal Financial Planning, Texas Tech University
   Presentation at Erasmus University Centre for Strategic 
   Philanthropy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2 April, 2012
Background / justification
Basics of fMRI experiments
The experiment
The results
Applications to practice
                   ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Charitable bequests financial significance 
                    • US charitable estate gifts 
                      over $22 billion; exceeds 
                      corporate giving of $15 
                      billion (Giving USA, 2011). 
                    • In prior 20 years, charitable 
                      bequests more than 
                      doubled in real dollars 
                      (Giving USA, 2011) 
                    • Future growth from 
                      population aging and 
                      increasing propensity due 
                      to greater education and 
                      childlessness (James, Lauderdale, & 
                      Robb, 2009). 

                                      ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
• 70% to 80% of Americans 
  engage in charitable giving 
  each year (Giving USA, 2011). 
• About 5% of Americans have a 
  charitable estate plan (James, 
  2009a). 




                                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Over‐50 
                                                            Donors with 
                                                             Charitable 
                                                            Plans, 9.4%




                           Over‐50 
                         Donors With 
                         No Charitable 
                         Plans, 90.6%




* Donors giving $500+ per year, weighted nationally representative 2006 sample
                                                                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
• Unlike current giving, it is 
  difficult to measure 
  experimental success in 
  bequest fundraising
• Ask to receipt may take 40+ 
  years
• Identification of distinct 
  cognitive characteristics could 
  inform fundraising strategies 
  sensitive to these differences 
                  ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Why use fMRI to study 
        bequest decision‐making?
• Not all parts 
  of decision‐
  making are 
  known to the 
  decision 
  maker
• Activation 
  reflects the 
  type of 
  cognitive 
  processes

                           ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Previous fMRI studies in giving: 
              reward/salience
• Moll, et al. (2006) found 
  giving engaged mesolimbic 
  reward systems in the same 
  way as when subjects 
  received monetary rewards. 
• Harbaugh, Mayr, and 
  Burghart (2007) found giving 
  elicited neural activity in 
  reward processing/salience 
  areas, e.g., ventral striatum. 
                                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Previous fMRI in charitable giving: 
               social cognition
• Izuma, Saito, and Sadato (2009) found greater ventral 
     striatum activation before a decision to donate when 
     observers were present v. absent
                                            • Hare, et al. (2010), 
                                               found giving value 
                                               calculation was 
                                               driven by input 
                                               from regions 
                                               involved in social 
                                               cognition
                                            • Moll, et al. (2006) 
                                               found decision to 
                                               donate mediated 
                                               by activation in 
                                               areas which play 
                                               key roles in social 
                                               attachment and 
©
Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University       aversion
Basics of fMRI 
 experiments




         ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
We place subjects in an MR 
scanner where they can
observe a video screen
and make choices 
by pressing buttons




                              ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech Univ
We can then associate those 
choices with blood 
oxygenation levels in 
different brain 
regions




                               ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech Univ
Subjects spend time in 
 the scanner working 
 with the buttons and 
screen to acclimate to 
   the environment




           ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Now some technical details*




*Written while
watching the Disney
Channel with my 7
year old daughter             ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
An fMRI picture of the
           brain is made up of
        thousands of boxes, called
           voxels, just like me!
●   ●




                        ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
We voxels
are small –
  usually
 about the
size of one   ●   ●




peppercorn




                      ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Inside each
           of us
         voxels are
         thousands
        of neurons
●   ●




          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
When a lot of
        these neurons
         start to fire,
           the body
           rushes in
●   ●   oxygen to help




            ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
This rush of
        oxygen comes
         through the
          blood and
          makes me
●   ●      start to
         change color




           ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
As my blood
           oxygen
        increases, I
         get redder

●   ●




           ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
And redder



●   ●




          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
If this keeps
        going, I will be
          totally red
        from all of the
         oxygen in my
●   ●        blood




             ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The fMRI machine can see my color
        change because blood with a lot of
        oxygen (red) is less attracted to
        magnets than blood without much
        oxygen (blue).


●   ●




●   ●




                               ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The fMRI machine is measuring a           BOLD
signal because the color is
                            lood  B
                                  Oxygen
                                  Level
                                  Dependent
 ●   ●              ●       ●   High blood oxygen



                                Low blood oxygen
 ●   ●
                ●       ●




                                       ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
We want to estimate the likelihood
that a voxel, or group of voxels, is
             activated




                          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
But, fMRI data does not start
 like this



Activation




                         ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
fMRI data starts like this




Activation




                             ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The signal
 is noisy
1. The brain
   is noisy
2. The scanner
   is noisy




                 ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The brain is noisy


             The brain is
             constantly active,
             constantly firing,
             constantly receiving
             input, constantly
             sending instructions


                       ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The brain is noisy
Even conscious
thought is scattered.
Did you think about
something other
than fMRI in the
last 3 minutes?




                        ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
How do
   we
 design
for noisy
 brains?



1. Contrasts   2. Repetition
                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Think in contrasts




                     ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
A single image      A contrast can
  contains much        subtract out
 unrelated brain         the noise
   activations
                             Task A-
Task A       Task B          Task B




                           ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Think of study results in terms of
             contrasts

Image                     Image of
             Image         task A-
of task      of task
   A                      Image of
                B           task B




                          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
We can use a
    “cognitive subtraction”
comparison to isolate an activity




            -           =

                         ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Cognitive subtraction:
 the comparison task is
identical, except for one
  variation of interest




                            ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The 
Experiment
  A comparison of 
 bequest decision 
 making with giving 
 and volunteering 
  decision making
©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Question
What brain regions 
 are differentially 
   activated by 
bequest decisions 
as compared with 
    giving and 
   volunteering 
    decisions?

                       ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Exploratory 
                                expectations



• Increased activation in areas 
  involved in death‐related 
  contemplation
• Unfortunately, very limited fMRI 
  research on what these areas are
                                      ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Death‐related words: precuneus
                  • Gündel, et al (2003) worked 
                    with subjects who had lost a 
                    first‐degree relative in the 
                    previous year. The only 
                    region showing significant 
                    activation (at p<.05, FWE) in 
                    response to grief‐related (v. 
                    neutral) words was the 
                    precuneus. 
                  • Freed, et al. (2009) examined 
                    subjects who had lost a pet 
                    dog or cat within the 
                    previous 3. Four of twelve 
                    areas showing activity in 
                    response to the deceased 
                    reminder (v. neutral) words, 
                    were in the precuneus. 
                                ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Methods
• Sixteen adult male subjects 
• Prior to entering the scanner, 
  subjects reviewed terms along 
  with the names and a one 
  sentence description of each 
  charitable organization. 
• Subjects had two right and two 
  left response buttons for each 
  hand, for a total of four 
  response options. 
                                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Comparison Questions
1. “If asked in the next 3 months, what is the likelihood 
you might GIVE money to ______” 
2. “If asked in the next 3 months, what is the likelihood 
you might VOLUNTEER time to ____” 
3. “If you signed a will in the next 3 months, what is 
the likelihood you might leave a BEQUEST gift to 
_____” 

96 questions: 28 x 3 large charitable organizations and 
4 x 3 family member recipient categories.  
16 second pairs (2B, 2G, 2V or 2G, 2B, 2V)
                                            ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
The 
Results



          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Behavioral Responses
                         (3) 
                       Some       (4) 
            (1)   (2)  what     Highly  Missi
Category None Unlikely Likely   Likely ng                    Avg.
Bequest 30.7% 38.9% 16.6%       11.3% 2.5%                   2.09
Give      30.5% 28.3% 26.8%     12.7% 1.8%                   2.22
Volunteer 24.4% 29.1% 25.8%     19.9% 0.8%                   2.42




                                   ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
What areas are 
more engaged 
during bequest 
questions than 
during giving/ 
 volunteering 
  questions?



A flight through 
   the brain: 
http://youtu.be
/NKKKE_7aFqM
                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Relative Activations Comparing Charitable 
     Bequest with Giving and/or Volunteering  
        (reporting only p<.05 FWE corrected cluster‐level)
                                                         peak‐level         cluster‐level
                                                           p     Z‐            p 
                                         MNI Co‐        (FWE‐ scor          (FWE‐
Contrast                Title            ordinates       corr)   e           corr) ke
(1) Bequest>Give        Lingual Gyrus    ‐2, ‐78, ‐2   0.004 5.44           0.000 1399
                        Precuneus        26, ‐66, 42   0.102 4.64           0.009 313
(2) Bequest>Volunteer   Lingual Gyrus    2, ‐80, ‐4    0.007 5.32           0.000 2254
                        Precuneus        30, ‐66, 40   0.180 4.47           0.004 356
                        Precentral Gyrus ‐34, ‐3, 36   0.397 4.19           0.001 433
(3) Bequest>            Lingual Gyrus    0, ‐78, ‐4    0.001 5.82           0.000 2016
(Give+Volunteer)
                        Precuneus        26, ‐66, 42 0.007        5.33 0.001 475

(4) Give>Bequest        Cuneus           8, ‐88, 20    0.157      4.51      0.003       388
(5) Volunteer>Bequest   Cuneus           8, ‐88, 20    0.060      4.79      0.000       1008
                        Insula           ‐38, ‐20, 8   0.323      4.27      0.001       462
(6) (Give+Volunteer)    Cuneus           6, ‐90, 22    0.011      5.22      0.000       1014
>Bequest
                                                          ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Activating with Increasing and Decreasing 
      Charitable Bequest Agreement  
  (Linear Parametric Modulation reporting only p<.05 FWE corrected)

                                          peak‐level          cluster‐level
                                            p                   p 
                              MNI Co‐ (FWE‐ Z‐               (FWE‐ cluster 
Contrast        Title         ordinates corr) score           corr) size
(1) Increasing  Lingual      10, ‐68, ‐4 0.004 5.46          0.000 671
with agreement  Gyrus
                Postcentral ‐40, ‐22, 52 0.007 5.37          0.000 1200
                Gyrus
(2) Increasing    Precentral  38, ‐20, 62 0.000 6.20         0.000 1387
with              Gyrus
disagreement
                  Insula     42, ‐20, 18 0.171 4.61          0.013 196



                                                  ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Core areas more 
    engaged for bequest 
       contemplation
• Precuneus 
• Lingual gyrus
       – Also increased activation was 
         significantly associated with 
         increased projected 
         likelihood of making a 
         charitable bequest



©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Visualized Autobiography 
              Precuneus and 
              lingual gyrus 
              activation occurred 
              when subjects were 
              able to vividly relive 
              events in an photo, 
              but not where scenes 
              were only vaguely 
              familiar.
                   (Gilboa, et al., 2004)




                        ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Visualized       “retrieving detailed vivid 
                 autobiographical 
Autobiography    experiences, as opposed to 
                 personal semantic 
                 information, is a crucial 
                 mediating feature that 
                 determines the 
                 involvement of 
                 hippocampus and two 
                 posterior neocortical
                  regions, precuneus and
                     lingual gyrus, in remote
                       autobiographical 
                        memory.” 
                          (Gilboa, et al., 2004, p. 1221)




                                ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Visualized Autobiography
                                            • In Viard, et al. (2007), four of 
                                              six regions showing significant 
                                              activation when reliving events 
                                              by mentally “traveling back in 
                                              time”, were in the precuneus 
                                              and lingual gyrus.
                                            • In Denkova (2006), three of the 
                                              four most statistically 
                                              significant regions associated 
                                              with recalling autobiographical 
                                              personal events were in the 
©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
                                              lingual gyrus and precuneus.
Visualized autobiography = visualization +
       3rd person perspective on self
• The lingual gyrus is part of the visual system.  Damage 
  can result in losing the ability to dream (Bischof & Bassetti, 
  2004).  
• The precuneus has been called “the mind’s eye” (Fletcher, 
  et al., 1995), is implicated in visual imagery of memories 
  (Fletcher, et al., 2005) and in taking a 3rd person perspective on 
  one’s self.




                                                  ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Precuneus: Taking a 3rd person 
            perspective on one’s self
• Differentially involved in 
  observing one’s self from an 
  outside perspective (Vogeley & 
   Fink, 2003) 
• Greater activation when 
  subjects described their own 
  physical and personality traits 
  as compared to describing 
  another’s (Kjaer, et al.,2002) 
• Activation greatest when 
  referencing one’s self, lowest 
  when referencing a neutral 
  reference person (Lou, et al.; 2004)
• TMS disrupting normal neural circuitry 
  in precuneus slowed ability to recall 
  judgments about one’s self more than the ability to recall 
  judgments about others (Lou, et al., 2004)                   ©
                                                Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Autobiography: The self across time
Inter alia, the              In Meulenbroek, et al. 
“precuneus may respond       (2010), the precuneus 
more strongly to familiar    was the most 
events involving the         statistically significant  
self and possibly                  region of 
when the self                      activation for 
is projected                        autobiographical 
across time.”                         memory tasks v. 
(Rabin, et al., 2009)                 semantic true‐
                                      false questions



                                      ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Lingual Gyrus: 
Autobiographical 
  Visualization
“activation of the visual 
cortex (in the lingual gyrus) 
might also be related to 
autobiographical memory 
retrieval and in particular 
to visual imagery 
components, which play a 
key role in autobiographical 
memory (Greenberg & 
Rubin, 2003)” (D’Argembau, et al. 
2007, p. 941). 
                  ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Simultaneous cuneus deactivation: 
   1st v. 3rd person perspective?
             • Jackson, Meltzoff, and Decety (2006) 
               found both lingual gyrus association 
               with third person perspective and 
               cuneus association with first person 
               perspective.
             • Similarly, Wurm, et al. (2011), found 
               greater activation in the lingual gyrus 
               for third‐person perspective and 
               simultaneously greater activation in 
               the cuneus for first‐person 
               perspective.  
             • Others have also associated cuneus 
               activity with first‐person perspective‐
               taking as contrasted with third‐
               person perspective‐taking (David, et 
               al., 2006; Lorey, et al., 2009).
                                   ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Applications to 
  practice in 
   bequest 
 fundraising


                   ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Visual autobiography in practice
Routley (2011) identified 
the importance of 
autobiographical 
connection when 
interviewing donors with 
planned bequests, writing, 
“Indeed, when discussing 
which charities they had 
chosen to remember, there 
was a clear link with the life 
narratives of many 
respondents”
                                  ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Visual autobiography in practice
“‘[In my will] there’s the Youth Hostel Association, first of 
all...it’s where my wife and I met....Then there’s the 
Ramblers’ Association. We’ve walked a lot with the local 
group...Then Help the Aged, I’ve got to help the aged, I am 
one...The there’s RNID because I’m hard of hearing...Then 
finally, the Cancer Research. My father died of cancer and so 
I have supported them ever since he died.’
Male, 89, married
‘The reason I selected Help the Aged...it was after my mother 
died...And I just thought – she’d been in a care home for 
probably three or four years. And I just wanted to help the 
elderly....I’d also support things like Cancer 
Research...because people I’ve known have died...An animal 
charity as well...I had a couple of cats.’
Female, 63, widowed” (Routley, 2011, p. 220‐221)
Visual autobiography in practice

Fundraisers may consider emphasizing the 
autobiographical connections between the 
donor and the charity, 
rather than 
focusing on the 
charity’s need 
for funds



©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Death salience
• Bequest decision making 
  processes differentially 
  activated areas similar to those 
  involved in using death‐
  oriented words to evoke 
  memories of a recently 
  deceased loved one (Gündel, et 
                                        You
  al., 2003; Freed, et al., 2009).  
• This association is consistent 
  with the rather obvious idea 
  that bequest decisions involve 
  reminders of mortality.  
                                       ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Terror‐management 
       theory   Suggests two levels of  “defenses” 
                      to mortality salience (Pyszczynski, et al., 
                      1999).  
                      Proximal defenses: avoid death 
                      reminders (Hirschberger, 2010), e.g., 
                      deny one’s vulnerability, distract 
                      oneself, avoiding self‐reflective 
                      thoughts (Pyszczynski, et al., 1999).  
                      Distal defenses: attempt to 
                      achieve literal (i.e., religious) or 
                      symbolic death transcendence 
                      through support of one’s 
                      worldview or self‐esteem 
                      (Hirschberger, 2010, p. 205). Some part of 
                      one’s self – one’s family, 
                      achievements, community – will 
                      continue to exist after death.
                                             ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Proximal      • the most common initial reaction 
                 will be to avoid or postpone the 
defenses in      topic  
 practice        – Even among older adults, most 
                   have no will or trust (James, Lauderdale, 
                   & Robb, 2009)
                 – For fundraisers, the enemy of the 
                   planned gift often isn’t “no”; the 
                   enemy is “later”
               • create deadlines, make 
                 appointments, or promote time‐
                 limited campaigns
                 – Rosen (2011) pointed to the 
                   example of a challenge gift where a 
                   donor agreed to match 10% of 
                   bequests, up to $10,000 per donor, 
                   signed prior to a deadline
                                        ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
U.S. Over 50 Population
                                             Charitable 
                                             Plans, 5.7%


                                              Plans Without 
                                              Charity, 38.2%
                              No Planning 
                              Documents, 
                                56.10%




                                                * Weighted nationally 
©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University       representative 2006 sample
Distal defenses in practice
• Symbolic immortality requires 
  something, identified with the decedent, 
  which will live beyond them, typically 
  descendants.  Hence, childlessness is 
  most significant predictor of charitable 
  bequest (James, 2009a).
• Large share of charitable bequest dollars 
  go to permanent private foundations, 
  typically bearing the deceased’s name 
  (James, 2009b).  
• Donors may be particularly interested in 
  lasting gifts (endowments, named 
  buildings, scholarship funds, etc.) to 
  stable organizations.  
                                               ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University
Limitations
This is the first study to 
examine bequest decision‐
making using fMRI. Many 
brain regions, including the 
ones differentially activated in 
this study, are involved in a 
wide range of cognitive 
activities.  Explanations of the 
causes behind these 
neurological correlates are 
preliminary working concepts.
                                    ©Dr. Russell James, Texas Tech University

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Planned giving and the brain