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Legacies and fMRIs: Inside the Mind of the Bequest Donor

Exploring research by Dr. Russell James using neural imaging and experimental psychology

CAGP Conference April 2014


Presented by Natasha van Bentum, CFRE

Mini bio, Russell James


Director of graduate studies in Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University Trained as lawyer; worked as Planned Giving Director Website
EncourageGenerosity.com

See mini-bio here

. . more about Russell James


He also has a website,
EncourageGenerosity.com

where he himself is a model of generosity, freely sharing valuable research, lectures, quizzes and videos, etc.

Backgrounder on why Im presenting this session on the work of Russell JamesJames


in 2012, discovered work of Russell James at the Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, Netherlands
corresponded with him over the past two years

wrote article in Oct 2012 for Gift Planning in Canada on his latest research

E&O
This presentation is a short overview of complex and detailed research conducted by Dr. James. Any errors or omissions are mine

Access to technology not normally available to nonprofit sector


Thanks to Texas Techs Neuroimaging Institute, Dr. James has at his doorstep the technology to conduct research that 99.9% of we gift planners would never have access to without a huge investment of research funds.

The next 5 slides are a quick summary of the neural imaging and experimental psychology research

The goal was to gain a framework for a greater understanding of how people make charitable bequest decisions. The experiment with fMRIs looked at bequest giving, regular giving and volunteering to see how the brain processes these decisions differently

Different areas of the brain activated with bequest decision-making

When it came to bequest giving decisions, different parts of the brain were activated: the Lingual gyrus, part of the VISUAL system a visualization area the Precunius, or minds eye, used to take a 3rd person perspective on oneself

Visual Autobiography
Charitable bequest decision making is more about autobiographical connections than the needs of the charity

Experimental psychology results


How do people deal with death-related reminders? Regardless of terminology or packaging, bequests evoke a strong reminder of reality of ones mortality Initial reaction to death-related thoughts is to push them out of consciousness The first-stage defence is avoidance, then distraction, denial, and delay Avoidance doesnt always work, eg illness Second-Stage Response is to seek symbolic immortality, a form of autobiographical continuity

Summary (cond)
Fundraisers should consider laying out for the donor how a bequest gift to the organization fits neatly into their autobiography. People often deal with mortality reminders by avoidance, or seeking symbolic immortality. Creating campaigns with artificial deadlines may help to combat avoidance, while emphasizing permanent or named giving projects may offer symbolic immortality.

Preamble on the fMRI process


Recently researchers have used brain science to study economic decision-making.
This combination of neuroscience and economics has spawned the new field of neuroeconomics. Much work in this new field centers on the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). The fMRI allows scientists to see which parts of the brain are working when subjects make economic decisions.

(continued)
When some part of the brain kicks into gear, it uses oxygen. The fMRI detects this depletion of oxygen. In this way, the fMRI records which parts of the brain "light up" during a decision task. By combining this with information about what different parts of the brain do, researchers can learn more about how people actually make decisions. (From This Is Your Brain on Charitable Giving, by Dr. Russell N. James III)

Motivators and de-motivators


Russells research focuses on what motivates individuals to make a leave a legacy as well as what demotivates them.

In his words . . .
The main areas where I do research are generosity and financial decision-making having to do with charitable giving. Im also interested in how a person perceives satisfaction with regard to their own financial circumstances. When you look at charitable giving as a whole, about 85 percent engage in charitable giving, and less than 5 percent engage in charitable estate planning. If it is out of fear, because were talking about a persons death or what is different about that decision, then maybe we could understand those barriers and address them.

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

What you see

What the subconscious sees

Seminar Tonight: Estate Planning

Seminar Tonight: Your Upcoming Death

Why use fMRI to study bequest decision-making?


Not all parts of decisionmaking are known to the decision maker Activation reflects the type of cognitive processes
Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Basics of fMRI experiments

Subjects are placed 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 signal because the color is lood

BOLD

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 contains much unrelated brain activations


Task A Task B

A contrast can subtract out the noise Task ATask B

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Think of study results in terms of contrasts


Image of task A Image of task B

Image of task AImage of 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


Gndel, 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. 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

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 _____
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

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 = 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 minds eye (Fletcher, et al., 1995), is implicated in visual imagery of memories (Fletcher, et al., 2005) and in taking a 3rd person perspective on ones self.

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Visualized Autobiography
Precuneus and lingual gyrus activation occurred when subjects were able to vividly relive events in a photo, but not where scenes were only vaguely familiar.
(Gilboa, et al., 2004)

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Visualized Autobiography

retrieving detailed vivid autobiographical experiences . . is a crucial 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

Precuneus: Taking a 3rd person perspective on ones self


Differentially involved in observing ones self from an outside perspective (Vogeley &
Fink, 2003)

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Applications to practice in bequest fundraising

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Visual autobiography in practice


Claire Routley has 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


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

Dr.

Russell James, Texas Tech University

Bequest narratives
[In my will] theres the Youth Hostel Association, first of all...its where my wife and I met....Then theres the Ramblers Association. Weve walked a lot with the local group...Then finally, the Cancer Research. My father died of cancer and so I have supported them ever since he died.

Male, 89 married (Routley, 2011, p. 220-221)

Bequest narratives
The reason I selected Help the Aged...it was after my mother died...And I just thought shed been in a care home for probably three or four years. And I just wanted to help the elderly....Id also support things like Cancer Research, because people Ive known have died...An animal charity as well, I had a couple of cats.
(Routley, 2011, p. 220-221)

Female, 63 widowed

For many, bequest decision making is emotionally aversive

Defences and avoidance


How do people deal with death-related reminders? Regardless of terminology or packaging, bequests evoke a strong reminder of the reality of ones mortality Initial reaction to death-related thoughts is to push them out of consciousness The first-stage defence is avoidance, then distraction, denial, delay, etc. Avoidance doesnt always work, eg illness, death of loved one Second-Stage Response is to seek symbolic immortality, a form of autobiographical continuity

Symbolic Immortality
Symbolic immortality, idea of leaving a legacy that will be remembered When people are reminded of their own mortality, it changes their decisions Increases desire for autobiographical heroism And attachment to community and values

Marketing Tips
Tell life stories of donors whose gift will carry on Talk about living donors, not those who have died (Leave a Legacy ads should be modified) Bequest decisions are like visualizing the final chapter in ones own autobiography On response devices, ask if theyd like to make a bequest in honour of someone

In Closing 5 Findings as reported by Michael Rosen in his blog on the work of Russell James

Bequest giving and current giving stimulate different parts of the brain. This suggests that different motivators and de-motivators are at work.

Key findings (cond)

Making a charitable bequest decision involves the internal visualization system, specifically those parts of the brain engaged for recalling autobiographical events, including the recent death of a loved one.one.

Key findings (cond)


Charitable bequest decision making engages parts of the brain associated with, what researchers call, management of death salience. In other words, and not surprisingly, charitable bequest decision making involves reminders of ones mortality.

Thank you to Dr. Russell James

Contact Information
Natasha van Bentum, CFRE Director, G2 (Give Green Canada / Patrimoine vert) Tel (250) 477 3474 Pacific Time (GMT-8) @GiveGreenCanada
vanbentum@gmail.com