Question Bob Social Sciences


Does true altruism exist?

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Answer Internal Staff

In social psychology, altruism is often described as a form of behaviour in which a person or animal will act in a selfless manner to the benefit of another individual or group of individuals. Altruistic ideals are in conflict with Darwin’s idea of natural section, as they would often reduce a person or animals chances of reproduction or survival. As such, there are four main reasons why it is likely altruism occurs, none of which can be described as selfless.

• Kin selection: This is where an individual will assist a relative. This may at first appear to be a truly altruistic act; however, it can actually lead to an increase in genetic representation within future generations.

• Mutualism: This is where 2 or more individuals will both engage in altruistic behaviour in an attempt to both profit from their alliance.

• Reciprocity: In offering assistance, one may expect some sort of reward in return.

• Manipulation: An individual may be misled into altruistic acts.

Empathic altruism is close to a true altruistic ideal, however it still contains selfish factors. One example of this would be ‘empathic concern’. This is where the altruistic behaviour would be borne from sympathising with an individual’s predicament and wishing to reduce it. Another form is ‘personal distress’, where an individual is concerned with their own discomfort and seeks to do something about it, and this action also reduces the stress of another. While these may both seem truly altruistic, it is clear that the acts do not originate from selfless actions but instead come from a need to reduce one’s own suffering.

As can be seen above, the idea of true altruism is idealistic, and in modern society cannot be seen as an attainable goal.