What is Altruism?

Altruism is an expression of concern for the welfare of others without any obvious benefit or motivation on the part of the individual expressing the concern. It is actually quite difficult to find examples of true altruism in the psychological sense, as many acts which are perceived as altruistic actually carry psychological rewards. In humans, helping others generally results in a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction, suggesting that humans have actually developed a biological imperative which pushes them to behave in an altruistic manner by providing an emotional reward.

When people talk about altruism, however, they don't usually mean altruism in the biological or psychological sense. They refer to an act of kindness or expression of concern which does not carry a material benefit. For example, someone who donates money to a charity might be considered altruistic, because he or she does not benefit directly from the act. Conversely, someone who builds homes for the homeless for school credit is certainly performing a charitable act, but not an altruistic one.

Many cultures view altruism as a positive personality trait, and altruistic acts are in fact highly valued. Many religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam promote altruism among their followers, stressing the idea that people are not righteous if they cannot express unselfish concern for others. The ability to help others, even at personal cost, is considered an important part of the expression of religious faith for many people.

In biology, you may hear people discuss altruism in the sense of an act which may harm an individual, but advance the species or social group. Biologists also talk about reciprocal altruism, which could better be termed “cooperation,” since it involves helping another organism with the understanding that the other creature will return the favor. “I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” in other words. Organisms which fail to cooperate may be punished, enforcing mutually beneficial behavior by showing that lack of cooperation has consequences.

Ethical theorists also talk about altruism. In ethics, altruism is often described as an imperative, with some ethicists arguing that in order for a society to survive, it must be altruistic in nature. For example, some ethicists support the use of taxation to raise funds for the purpose of providing health care to all citizens, something which benefits low-income members of society more than high-income members of society while also supporting the health of the society as a whole.

You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 4

It's very difficult to be altruistic these days because people have become skeptical and suspicious towards others who want to do good things. In fact, you can get into a lot of trouble for it, and even if the situations are usually cleared up, it has made me at least hesitant to do good deeds.

Post 3

BrickBack- I know that Dave Ramsey was talking about a friend of his that used to give away one hundred dollar bills to random people on the street during Christmas time.

He was known as the Christmas Angel. He never sought any form of recognition and took particular joy in seeing people’s faces when he offered them the money.

He passed a few years ago, but Dave Ramsey told this story because he wanted his listeners to understand that it is great to save money and be debt free because he felt that it put you in a great position to give to others in the way that you would like. This is what ideal altruism is

all about.

I also love when companies display corporate altruism.Many large companies give anonymously even though they would benefit from the positive public relations.

Many of these corporations are places that people really enjoy working in because the company truly understands the value of people and the human spirit.

Post 2

SurfNturf- Pure altruism is really a beautiful thing and can be found in movies like Pay it Forward.

Here the premise of the movie involves altruism social psychology that allows one person to do a good deed for a total stranger because they benefited from the same help. Oprah Winfrey has also done shows on altruism and even the simple gesture of paying the toll for the car behind you is an act of altruism and can make a big difference in someone's life.

Post 1

Prosocial behavior is altruism in children. Children raised in nurturing homes tend to have a higher degree of altruistic behavior. In the book Child, Family, School, Community: Socialization and Support by Roberta M. Berns she states that although altruism is a developed gene within the child it can also be developed through modeling and role playing.

The child also learns how to be more altruistic according to how they are disciplined. For example, a parent that uses a moral tone and explains why a child is wrong in what they did and how it effected another child will most likely develop this trait.

However, if the parent scolds or hits the child the degree of altruism has the lowest potential to form.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?