Does True Altruism Exist?

1 January 2017

Is Empathic Emotion a Source of Altruistic Motivation? This article focuses on whether it is possible to have true altruistic motives or whether everyone is motivated by egoistic goals. The difference in the two being that altruistic motives are done with the end result being to ease someone else’s suffering or discomfort while egoistic motives have the end goal of reducing one’s own suffering or discomfort (Batson, 1981). Through experiments they have shown that there is a correlation between others altruistic motivations and similarity of the person who is suffering.

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When one is faced with the suffering of someone they perceive as being similar to themselves, they are more likely to help. There was also a documented correlation between an egoistic person’s willingness to help and the ease of removing themselves from the situation, or personal cost. If a person is able to remove themselves from witnessing the suffering, than they are less likely to help, while when faced with continue exposure to the suffering, they are more likely to provide assistance. These findings help show that there can be purely altruistic motives for helping but they are not conclusive in this result.

Empathy-Based Helping: Is It Selflessly or Selfishly Motivated? This article looks at the study by Batson et al and attempts to show that a person’s likelihood to help one who is suffering is not based on altruistic motives but rather on an egotistic level dependant on the alleviation of their mood. Cialdini et al (1987) proposed that when one is watching another’s suffering is can create a temporary sadness that can make them more inclined to help. To prove this point, the researchers replicated the experiment of Batson et al adding tests for mood and rewards.

The reward was given as a way to elevate the participants’ mood without changing their empathetic nature to the worker. Their hypothesis was that participants who had a temporary change in mood, but received a reward would be less willing to help. Their findings were that the participants who were considered high-empathy but received a mood elevating reward were no more likely to help that those who were low-empathy, while those participants who were high-empathy and did not receive a mood elevating reward were the most ikely to help. This served to prove the theory they were testing in that it was not altruistic motives that caused a person to be more willing to help, but rather an egotistic motive to alleviate ones distress caused by a temporary mood change. Evaluation There have been many studies done to look at possible altruistic behavior. Some have looked at the motive behind the behavior, the mood or socio-economic background of the giver and even the risk-reward of the scenario.

What has been found is that there is not a clear answer to whether true, unselfish altruism truly exists. There is proof that these helping actions can be caused by biological, economical or, social motivations. The two closest links to helping would be the similarity of the one suffering to the helper and the relationship the helper has with the one who is suffering. When one has a personal tie to the person suffering, they are than invested in that person well-being. Whereas, a similarity triggers a biological need to help.

One will choose help someone who is suffering because they feel that this person is similar to them and there is a biological need to help guarantee the genetic survival and reproductive triumph of those who are genetically similar to themselves (Mattis, 2011). This behavior is than motivated by a person’s desire to see others like them thrive, causing it to be an egotistically motivated action. When someone shares a personal bond with another, it is difficult to sit back and watch that person suffer.

For this reason, one is more likely to step in to help. The level to which this bond is related can directly correlate to the chance of helping (Mattis, 2011). There is also a link between the personal cost to the likelihood of helping. According to a study by Ribar and Wilhelm (2002), one is more likely to make charitable contributions such as money to alleviate their discomfort than psychical help. It is stated that a person would rather invest their money into a cause than their time.

The reason for this is two-fold, one it is less of a personal investment to hand over money than to give up time and two, the charitable donation allows one a sense of helping without being personally confront with the one(s) who are suffering. Is There Really Such a Thing as True Altruism? Looking at the research that has been completed so far, it would be fair to say that there is no such thing as pure altruism. When one chooses to help another who is suffering, they can be doing so for many reasons, but all come back to a personal motivation end game.

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