When it comes to philanthropy, a lot of thought can go into the process, from choosing the right cause to making the most of one’s time, skills, or dollars. But at the heart of those decisions—or, rather, hardwired into the circuitry of our brains—something more primitive is also going on according to Stephanie Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

There, in our neurochemical makeup, is a drive to help others in distress—or an “altruistic urge”—as Preston calls it in her recent book of the same name. This instinct that’s been handed down through millions of years of evolution is what pushes us to help those in need, even enabling us to perform heroic acts in the face of danger.

While humans have evolved to take on more complex reasoning and rationalizing, Preston said this selfless reflex is something we actually have in common with many other species.

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