The Evolutionary Psychology Of Reciprocal Altruism

Altruism is acting in a way that bears in mind other people’s well-being. There are even cases when due to said act, some people jeopardize their own well-being, health, and safety in their bid to help others. These acts are usually performed without any selfish intent or any expectation of a reward. There is also another concept called reciprocal altruism where people perform things that are meant to help other people with the goal that these people they have helped out will also lend a hand in return.

Understanding Altruism

The selfless concern for others and doing things just because they only wanted to help is altruism. It is altruism when people help others not just because of a sense of obligation, loyalty, duty or some religious motivations.

Everyday living is usually filled with a variety of altruistic acts. Whether it is giving a few changes to the homeless or keeping the door open for strangers, these are all little acts of kindness that are performed without regard for reward or recognition. In the media, it is often those altruistic stories that are grander in scale that gets highlighted but there are so many people every day that do their part not because they want to be recognized for doing so but because they just genuinely want to.

Altruism and Prosocial Behavior

In psychology, altruism can be considered as prosocial behavior. A prosocial behavior is an action that will benefit other people, regardless of the motive of the giver or what benefits he can get out of such action. It’s important to note, however, that when it comes to pure altruism, only pure selflessness is the motivating factor.

All acts that are altruistic in nature are considered as prosocial acts. However, it must be understood that not every single prosocial behavior can be considered purely altruistic. For instance, there are a lot of people who would be willing to help others but not because of pure selflessness but a sense of obligation, guilt or duty are the motivating factors. There are even those that would extend their help to others due to the possibility of reaping rewards later on.

Why Altruism Exists

There are a variety of explanations suggested by psychologists on the existence of altruism. Among these include:

Biological Reasons

According to kin selection, people are usually more motivated to help those who are related to them by blood as this help increase the chances of transmitting these genes to their future generations. This theory also suggests that when there is altruism extended to close relatives, the main motivator is the possible continuation of any shared gene. The closer individuals are in terms of blood relations, the more likely it is that they will extend their help.

Neurological Reasons

The brain’s reward center gets activated upon performing acts of altruism. Neurologists have discovered that when people engage in something altruistic, the brain’s pleasure center activates. A study found that when people engage in compassionate acts, the part of the brain which is connected with the reward-system gets activated, triggering the release of dopamine. As a result, the positive feeling connected to performing altruistic acts reinforces the behavior.

Environmental Reasons

According to a study conducted by Stanford, altruistic behaviors are largely influenced by the relationships and interactions of a person. It has since been debated whether people are born with a tendency to extend a hand to others while there are those that aren’t— suggesting that genetics may have a hand towards a person’s altruistic tendencies. However, there are also those that dispute that socialization can impact altruistic behavior, which could mean that children who are more exposed to altruistic actions are likely to develop the same behavior as well.