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Do people become more generous as they age? Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun and Dr Narun Pornpattananangkul from the Department of Psychology certainly think so, and their latest study examines the reasons for why this might be the case.

In a study published in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences on 5 April 2017, the researchers find that older adults donate more to strangers than younger adults do, even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated. While both younger and older adults are equally generous to people who are close to them, such as close friends and family, older adults are more generous to whom they are socially distant, such as total strangers. When adapted to the social-discounting framework, this study demonstrates that older adults engage in less social discounting as compared to younger adults, as their level of generosity does not decrease with social distance as quickly as the latter.


Why the altruistic behaviour?

“Greater generosity was observed among senior citizens possibly because as people become older, their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities,” explained Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun, who led the study. In other words, greater generosity in late life may well be an avenue for older adults to seek emotional gratification and a sense of purpose in life.

The researchers further speculate that age-related changes at the neurobiological level may account for the changes in generosity, as this heightened motivation in older adults to contribute to the greater good – or the “ego-transcending” motivation – parallels that of participants in an earlier study who received oxytocin, a hormone related to maternal love and trust. Dr Pornpattananangkul, a research fellow at the Department of Psychology, elaborates, “In this study, we found a similar pattern of an ego-transcending motivation among the older adults, as if the older adults received oxytocin to boost their generosity.”


Moving forward: Studies to Examine Neural Mechanisms Involved in Decision Making

Given the inclination of older adults towards generosity and altruism, Assistant Professor Yu suggests that older adults should be provided with “more opportunities to help others”, as its benefits extend to both society and older adults themselves.

Going ahead, Assistant Professor Yu and his team look forward to using brain-imaging technologies to examine the neural mechanisms that underlie changes in decision-making. Research findings from these studies are immensely valuable, as the insights derived from them may be translated into effective intervention programmes to promote healthy ageing, and may also help tackle age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, which are often characterised by deficits in decision-making.

The Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences today announced the establishment of a new award to encourage social innovations that can make a positive impact on communities in ASEAN countries.

Known as the ASEAN Social Impact Award, this initiative is a partnership with the Ee Peng Liang Memorial Fund, Asia Philanthropy Circle (APC) and Ashoka Singapore, and is supported by the Ee Peng Liang Memorial Fund. The long-term goal of this award is to build communities of social innovators who work together to transform society and design new ways for communities to be more entrepreneurial, productive and connected. The award will also convene philanthropists committed to collective action for community betterment in the ASEAN region.

Inspired by the selfless drive of Singapore’s Father of Charity Dr Ee Peng Liang in uplifting communities in need and supporting causes that make a lasting change, the Award, in its first year, will be in honour of the late Dr Ee and his charitable contributions.

Dr S Vasoo, Associate Professorial Fellow with the Department of Social Work, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Chairman of the Ee Peng Liang Memorial Fund Committee, said, “The late Dr Ee Peng Liang was always ready to lend a helping hand to the needy and the disadvantaged, and he firmly believed that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. His lifelong commitment to advancing human development in communities in need is an inspiration to all of us.”

“Through this new award, we want to celebrate the many good works of the men and women who embody this selfless spirit and to also inspire social innovations that provide sustainable solutions to address challenges face by communities in need and, in turn, help build an inclusive society for all in the ASEAN region,” Dr Vasoo added.

Mr Stanley Tan, Chairman of APC, and Chairman of the ASEAN Social Impact Award committee, said, “APC is delighted to support this award. Asian philanthropists would like to see and support Asian leaders in social innovation, so that we may share and spread best practices across the region. While we copy many models from the West, there are also many successful programmes in Asia that we should help to scale and replicate.”

The ASEAN Social Impact Award

The ASEAN Social Impact Award will recognise individuals, who have a strong drive and vision to resolve social issues and create positive social impact in their respective communities in ASEAN countries.

To be considered for the award, candidates’ organisation would need to fulfil three key criteria: benefitted the disadvantaged community in the ASEAN region; achieved a demonstrable scale of impact, and in operation for at least three years.

Candidates and their initiatives would also be assessed based on social impact, entrepreneurial quality, innovation quality and sustainability. The candidate’s area of work can include sectors such as:

  • Economic development
  • Migrants
  • Environment
  • Health and nutrition
  • Ageing
  • Learning and education

Three winners will be selected, and each winner will receive a cash prize of up to S$50,000 to further scale the impact of their work.

Applications are open until 15 July 2017. For more details on the award and the application process, please refer to

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is pleased to share that six research projects led by our Faculty members have been chosen to receive funding from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Established in 2006, the SSRC’s inaugural batch of awardees draws from the Ministry of Education’s $350million drive over the next five years to bolster local research in the humanities and social sciences. The winning proposals were hand-picked from a list of 70 applications for demonstrating “intellectual merit” and “potential impact and contribution to society and economy”, MOE said in a press release.

Three projects led by FASS Faculty Members received Type-A funding, which is valued between S$100,000 to S$1million for up to three years; while the other three received Type-B funding, valued at S$1million to S$10 million over three to five years. These projects share the common themes of social integration, innovation, and human development; and demonstrates the value that the humanities and social sciences can bring to Singapore as we confront the challenges that lie ahead. 

Our heartiest congratulations to all of the following awardees:

Projects receiving between $1 million and $10 million

Building Capacity in Singapore's Population: Testing Innovations in Human Development

Professor Jean Yeung
Department of Sociology

Service Productivity and Innovation Research Programme (Spire)
Professor Ivan Png
Department of Economics

Sustainable governance of transboundary environmental commons in Southeast Asia
Professor David Taylor
Department of Geography

Projects receiving between $100,000 and $1 million

Identifying Positive Adaptive Pathways in Low-income families in Singapore

Associate Professor Esther Goh
Department of Social Work

Making Identity Count in Asia: Identity Relations in Singapore and its Neighbourhood
Professor Ted Hopf
Department of Political Science

Population ageing, old age labour and financial decisions in Singapore
Associate Professor Liu Haoming
Department of Economics

FASS Mentorship Programme is a unique year-long programme (starting in August and ending in July the following year) for Year 3 and Year 4 graduating students as they transition from student to working adult. Students’ aspirations are matched with FASS alumni with some years of working experience within the same industry sector. For more information about the FASS Mentorship Programme, please go to

Apply HERE.

Closing date: 15 March 2017

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

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