Charitable Estate Planning as Visualized Autobiography: An fMRI Study of Its Neural Correlates

Russell N. James, Michael W. O'Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This first ever functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of charitable bequest decision making found increased activation in the precuneus and lingual gyrus of the brain compared to charitable giving and volunteering decisions. Greater lingual gyrus activation was also associated with increased propensity to make a charitable bequest. Previous studies have shown that activation of these brain regions is related to taking an outside perspective of one's self, recalling the recent death of a loved one, and recalling vivid autobiographical memories across one's life. We propose that bequest decision making is analogous to visualizing the final chapter in one's autobiography and that fund-raisers may do well to emphasize donors' autobiographical connections with the charity. Due to inherent mortality salience, people may resist creating this final chapter but, once engaged, may seek to leave an enduring legacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-373
Number of pages19
JournalNonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • bequest
  • charitable giving
  • fMRI


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