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The Drive For Altruism Is Hardwired

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the good-feels-good dept.

Biotech 582

Dekortage writes "The Washington Post is reporting on recent neuroscience research indicating that the brain is pre-wired to enjoy altruism — placing the interests of others ahead of one's own. In studies, '[G]enerosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex... Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.' Such research 'has opened up a new window on what it means to be good,' although many philosophers over recorded history have suggested similar things."

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Hold up... technical foul (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312199)

Altruism != generosity even if they go hand in hand.

Re:Hold up... technical foul (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312383)

You mean...Lou Cipher may display some tactical generosity to bring about the strategic ruin?

altruism (3, Interesting)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312205)

The principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. For those that didnt know.

Re:altruism (1)

Ice Wewe (936718) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312225)

Makes you wonder if Microsoft has that...

Re:altruism (4, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312379)

The principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. For those that didnt know.

Since you didn't post this as an AC I think we all know where you stand. : p

Re:altruism (0, Redundant)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312737)

A very altruistic post... Except you didn't post anonymously.

So do selfish people have defective brains? (1)

DickBreath (207180) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312219)

What does this say about people who complain about the GPL and open source? (The GPL is a cancer. Open source is un-American.)

Re:So do selfish people have defective brains? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312257)

Probably the same people who don't like sex - or at least don't think anyone else should be allowed to have any.

Re:So do selfish people have defective brains? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312669)

You mean women?

Re:So do selfish people have defective brains? (4, Insightful)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312347)

What does this say about people who complain about the BSD license? (BSD isn't as free as GPL. etc) Do GPL supporters have defective brains?

Ok, just to be 100% clear, I don't believe that, I just think the parent posted something that utterly misses the point and just buys into more of the "if you're not with us, you're against us" / "anyone who doesn't agree with me is stupid" mentality that is all too prevalent today.

Re:So do selfish people have defective brains? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312385)

What does this say about people who complain about the GPL and open source? (The GPL is a cancer. Open source is un-American.)
Those people don't really exist. That is just FUD from the open source crowd.

Opensource software sucks. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312435)

Go to hell, communists. You democrats are trying to destroy the United States' only hold over China: They need Microsoft software. When they can get crappy free solutions to do the same, the United States will just continue to become indebted to China and other countries. And it will be all your fault, you Hillary fanboys. For the sake of national security, free software efforts must become against the law. Besides, free software destroys our free market, creating monopolies, by selling at excessively low prices. Would Microsoft get away with giving away free products to take competitors' market share away? No. Neither should these ****ing tree-hugging, Prius-driving free software zealots. The captcha is appropriately "planking." Yes, I am the same Anonymous Coward.

Re:So do selfish people have defective brains? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312521)

What does this say about people who complain about the GPL and open source? (The GPL is a cancer. Open source is un-American.)
Nothing. People may be motivated to complain about GPL and OS software out of self-preservation, or they feel that in the long run it will make things worse off.
People can be driven by the same motivations, but pursue different paths.

A step in the right direction (1)

CdrGlork (1096607) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312223)

Now we just need to develop a reliable test for this, and make it a requirement for public office.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312481)

An even better idea regarding public office, taken from Ancient Greece: Make every position a lottery. Anyone of legal age can hold any office. We just draw SSNs randomly and that person gets to hold office.

Not only would this put more ordinary folks in power, but it would also force us to make sure everyone is intelligent enough to hold office.

Alternatively, we could simply ask the person if they want to hold an office and give them the job if they say "no." (With apologies to DNA.)

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312563)

Now we just need to develop a reliable test for this, and make it a requirement for public office.
Actually, the worst monsters in history are the true believers on some grand crusade. Selfish politicians are just looking to make a quick buck. They are basicly gangsters. The truly aweful things like wars, genocide, police states, etc., are done by crusaders who are willing to do anything to "make the world a better place" according to their grand vision, or to "destroy evildoers", or whatever.

For example, compare Al Capone or Manuel Noriega to monsters like Mao or Lenin or Hitler.

So I guess... (3, Funny)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312229)

"-- placing the interests of others ahead of one's own. In studies, '[G]enerosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex... "

So I guess chicks that put a man's sexual interests ahead of her own...REALLY lights up her own pleasure response!!!

I gotta make a note of this one...sounds like material to submit for an investigational grant!!

Re:So I guess... (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312293)

It also works the other way around. And no, I'm not kidding. A good marriage is based on both sides giving.

Science is simply confirming what has already been known for a very long while.

Re:So I guess... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312431)

Actually, that's not far from the truth: if you can get a woman to put forth some sort of effort (talk about herself, tell a joke, buy you something, etc.), she will become more attracted to you. It's part of the general psychological "miswiring" we have whereby we value things more if we've put more effort into them, even when it's really irrational on a pure CBA, and so obviously also works on men.

If you think about it, car salesmen REALLY milk this: Note how they make you pay for a credit check or something upfront, then make the (bull****) negotiations take forever, then slowly pile on the (bull****) fees when you start to take the attitude, "hey, I've come this far...".

You can either work with it or against it.

Re:So I guess... (1)

king-manic (409855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312581)

I dated a girl who couldn't orgasm regularly due to a surgery she had that accidentally severed some of the nerves to her clit. She was very very very giving. She got off mentally from me getting off physically.

So... (5, Funny)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312231)

what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.

Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312397)

what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish. Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.
sure. altruism feels good so it would stand to reason that the converse [selfishness] causes the opposite- a decrease in happiness. thus those who are 100% selfish [ie all of us] are in fact going against what makes us happy- thus we are all altruistic by ignoring our own needs for happiness. follow that

Following your logic... (4, Funny)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312407)

what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.
Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.

If I want to give money to a charity, that's selfish, but by denying my selfish desire and refusing to give to charity, I become altruistic.

Re:So... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312465)

what they are saying is people are only generous because it feels good. That is, if it did not give them that feel good feeling, they would not be generous. Thus, everyone is generous for their own selfish purposes. Ergo, everyone is 100% selfish.

Ayn Rand [wikipedia.org] beat you to this by 60 years or so.

Go ahead, try to follow my logic. I dare you.

That's about how I feel about Ayn Rand too.

Re:So... (5, Insightful)

writerjosh (862522) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312665)

Not true:

Or I should say, only partially true. You're saying that altruism is a selfish endeavor, meaning, giving away something is only done because the brain will reward you with pleasure. True. However, you're missing the bigger picture of this article: altruism is not just about pleasure, it's about survival.

Take this altruistic concept back to a primitive, tribal society level. One hunter brings back a deer to the village. He can hoard it all to himself and ensure the survival of himself and/or his family, OR, he can divvy out the deer to the entire tribe even though this means he'll get less for himself. Why would he do this? According to you, it's simply because it feels good to give, but the point of this article (imho) is to show that it's actually beneficial to his survival. And his survival is 100% dependent on the survival of the tribe.

So, yes, it is selfish, but it's selfish on a tribal/societal level. Sharing ensures the survival of the tribe, therefore sharing ensures the survival of the individual (because it's really hard, if not impossible, to survive on your own in a hostile world).

That's my two cents.

First post (4, Funny)

Teddy Beartuzzi (727169) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312237)

Well, I wasn't, but that's because it gave me more pleasure for someone else to get it.

Bit O' Trolling (-1, Flamebait)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312243)

Apologies in advance for what is about to be a match to an evolution vs. creation flamewar, but I'm in a bit of a cheeky mood and feel like "getting some back" in this old argument.

Specifically, I've been getting a bit tired of hearing the old "science disproves the existence of a higher being" B.S. that's constantly thrown around. I recall it starting with the baseless Human Genome Confirms Evolution [slashdot.org] (archive [archive.org] ) story a few years back. The author of the article was quick to jump to the conclusion that finding fewer genes than expected *proved* that man must have evolved. (Too bad we never saw his formal proof of that. Would have been fascinating to see how well it stood up to scrutiny.)

Now that's not to say that the theological side of the argument hasn't made some pretty dumb steps itself. e.g. Intelligent Design can't be a true scientific theory, because science can only deal with that which is inside our universe. If we are positing the existence of an extra-universal being who set the universe in motion, then science does not have the reach to make that determination. Science is restricted to the laws of the Universe in which we inhabit. It would be very poor form for a being who trancends time to be an inhabitant of a universe that would forcably constrain Him. Therefore "God" is a concept that must be dealt with in Theology, not the investigation of the laws of nature. (Even Newton was smart enough to know this!)

However, this argument usually gets a "thinking logically, if X happened, is it not more likely that it was a natural occurance rather than the hand of an almighty being?" Which, of course, completely misses the point. (And spurs quite a few eyerolls.) If we are in a Universe put in motion by an extra-universal being, then the laws of nature are *His* laws of nature. They work according to how He says they should work.

Again, since I'm feeling cheeky, I figured it would be fun to respond with a similarly goofy argument:

It seems to me that if man is hardwired with an sense of altruism and a desire to believe in a super-being, there can be no other answer to this question than the existence of a Creator.

Ok, go have fun tearing each other up over that. I guarantee that you'll get nowhere, but it might be fun to watch. Lame noodly-appendage references and ID arguments, HO!

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312319)

Batman would never in a million years type up something of that sort. Shame on you for impersonating my lord and savior.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312329)

OK, just to give the atheistic, evolutionary response: altruism is a form of kin selection. If I act altruistically regarding my kin, my genes, through them, still make it into the next generation.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312501)

That would be a great argument if altruism was limited to one's family. But what drives people to perform selfless work for non-relatives? These same people may someday be in competition with you for resources of some sort. That is the exact opposite strategy to natural selection.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (2, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312577)

The idea that, if you get in competition with them over resources, they may in turn be more altruistic to you, as opposed to Joe down the street?

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312709)

It's not my argument (I think it's Dawkins). Think about the evolutionary populations. Think tribes. Everyone you knew was some sort of relative. What's good for the tribe is what's good for your genes. Evloution is the differential selection of populations, not individuals. Granted, that doesn't apply today, but I'd argue that we're no longer evolving, just homogenizing.

Altruism Can Be Evolved (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312353)

Altruism can impart a survival and reproductive advantage, although not directly but indirectly. Altruism can benefit the survivability of your immediate community. A stronger community increases your chance of survival in hard times. Its the same argument for morality being involved.

I'd suspect a lot of our higher functions, such as altruism, charity, morals, and the like are influenced a lot more by our genetic programming than people would like to believe.

Evolutionary reason for altruism is very obvious. (1)

Palmyst (1065142) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312375)

It is co-operation. The human being is a social animal because if you don't watch each other's backs, the sabre tooth tiger will first eat the other guy and then eat you. (A simplistic example of why if we are all selfish, we will all just die out).

Re:Bit O' Trolling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312381)

But didn't God give man freewill? If so then why bother to "hardwire" altruism?

Re:Bit O' Trolling (0)

metamatic (202216) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312401)

What you're missing is that evolution doesn't care about the individual, only the species.

In our early history, tribes that were altruistic would have had a survival advantage--the injured or sick would have been cared for by others, even though it didn't benefit the carers. They would often have recovered and gone on to father descendants, or at least care for the kids while the parents were off hunter-gathering.

Meanwhile, the Ayn Rand tribe would have left the sick and injured to die, reducing their tribe's size and its genetic diversity (and hence their adaptability) as well as possibly losing the benefit of those who might have recovered if cared for. This would have damaged the tribe's survival chances relative to the altruistic tribe.

So it makes perfect evolutionary sense that we are wired to help others of our species at our own personal expense. It's exactly what I'd expect given natural selection; in fact, my first reaction to the summary was "What, this is news?"

Re:Bit O' Trolling (2, Insightful)

powermacx (887715) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312601)

evolution doesn't care about the individual, only the species.

Neither. Evolution "cares" most of all about genes. An extremely interesting view of "altruism" from evolution's point of view can be found on Richard Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene [wikipedia.org]

Re:Bit O' Trolling (2, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312697)

Meanwhile, the Ayn Rand tribe would have left the sick and injured to die, reducing their tribe's size and its genetic diversity (and hence their adaptability) as well as possibly losing the benefit of those who might have recovered if cared for. This would have damaged the tribe's survival chances relative to the altruistic tribe.

I'm all for thoughtful criticism of Rand, but ...

1) Rand would have advised helping them for a price, NOT leaving them to die. In her novels, the downtrodden one always makes it worthwhile to be helped.

2) You can screw it up just as badly in the opposite direction. When the successful can expect to be expropriated, expect a lot less innovation. There are lots of examples of stagnant societies where anyone who produces more than others can expect to either "share" most of it (an effective ~80% marginal tax rate) or be expelled.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312487)

It's usually harder to prove something doesn't exist than it is to prove something does exist.

Some Christians do understand this in a way, but use it to (IMO) argue themselves into a corner when they say that God can only be disproven through exhaustion. Proof by exhaustion is not a realistic demand, this is why the burden of proof is generally supposed to be on the people that try to claim the affirmative. They try to duck any request to prove the existence of any deity at all, other than maybe trying to say that proof of God's signature is everywhere in nature, which really isn't a proof at all as far as I understand it.

Both sides of the argument are too often prone to argument by ridicule though, and that's irritating.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312523)

I have no desire to believe in a super-being. Ergo, half of your assertion is inaccurate and your argument is moot.

Re:Bit O' Trolling (1)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312717)

Science is restricted to the laws of the Universe in which we inhabit.

Of course, you're assuming that the "Universe" that we inhabit is a subset of some larger whole, and that it is impossible for us to get any information from the larger superset. I'm not so sure. Our 'subset' used to include just our solar system, and then we figured out the stars weren't just painted on a dome but were actual objects way far away - and the 'subset' then included our galaxy. Then we noticed that some of what we thought were just star clusters were actual galaxies, and our subset got a lot bigger yet.

If the 'superset' has no influence whatsoever on our 'subset', then sure, science can't pick up on it. But then again, by definition that means it has no practical, detectable effect on our 'subset' - and that's the kind of chin Occam's Razor was made to shave.

It seems to me that if man is hardwired with an sense of altruism and a desire to believe in a super-being, there can be no other answer to this question than the existence of a Creator.

Or maybe it's just standard evolution plus game theory [homeunix.org] .

let me facilitate your pleasure (3, Funny)

Artifex (18308) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312245)

I'm broke; give me money :)

Re:let me facilitate your pleasure (1)

Virak (897071) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312551)

Thanks, but no thanks. I'm quite adept at facilitating my own pleasure. And for free, too.

I would luv to give you money, but I'm not selfish (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312733)

But, taking money from you and spending it sound like work. I don't like work but I'll do it anyway for the altruistic good of society.

Frsit psot (0, Offtopic)

impeachgod (982062) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312247)

First post

Re:Frsit psot (0, Offtopic)

jstretch78 (1102633) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312349)

Frsit psot
Well not quite first, atleast you can spell....erm?

Superior Being (4, Funny)

ATestR (1060586) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312249)

It is thus logical that a truly superior human will learn to abandon any primitive altruistic tendencies.

Re:Superior Being (1)

gutnor (872759) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312541)

Difficult to get rid of human nature.

So instead man created Companies and Ultra Liberalism.
So he can fool his brain behind "The System" and still enjoy altruism when giving money to some orphan in Africa.

Re:Superior Being (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312643)

What is your rational for saying this? It doesn't make the least bit of sense.

Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (4, Insightful)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312253)

If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule?

Sure you've got the basic need as a parent to provide for the family and to others of your pack/tribe. But "altruism" in its known sense as just giving to somebody you don't even know? If it's so "basic" we'd all be in the homeless kitchens in Thanksgiving (in the US) instead of at home.

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (1)

s.bots (1099921) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312409)

It is basic to the individual brain, not the group mentality. ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pack_mentality#Behavi or_in_crowds [wikipedia.org] ) It is possible, then, for a person with a personally altruistic nature to behave in a very selfish manner. North American society has very effectively conditioned us to believe that it is in our best interest to constantly be "looking out for #1". In Nazi Germany, people were conditioned to believe that Jews were a disease. If you were to (semi-)isolate an individual, would they behave in an altruistic manner towards others?

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312425)

I don't think that's the point either. Don't think of it as giving 100% unselfishly to the exclusion of self.

Does it feel good when you give somebody a present and they are happy?
Does it feel good when you help somebody pick up something they dropped?
Does it feel good to hold a door open for someone and get thanked?

Those are all very minor things, but I think most people would say that doing something nice can FEEL good. What it's not saying is that everybody is out there giving away all their possessions to homeless and getting a sexual thrill out of it.

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312571)

We evolved in small roving bands. In terms of being nice to those immediately around us, I'd say that's pretty universal. I'm more willing to loan my neighbor some money than a complete stranger.

Secondly, who is to say that most members of society aren't altruistic. Perhaps it's just a minority, a group of mutants, who twist society and work for their own ends.

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (2, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312599)

It compared it to the pleasure of food and sex. We don't eat and screw all day long every day, and if we did, it would cause problems. I don't just mean the society problems of no one working, either, but-- you know, things get sore and over-stuffed. We also have other pleasures to compete with these. We derive satisfaction from accomplishing, we receive pleasure from dominating, and sometimes even sore muscles from a hard day's work feel like a reward when your head hits the pillows.

Besides, our society tells us not to engage in altruistic behavior. When you're nice to people for no reward, you're a sucker. Failing to screw everyone over in pursuit of even the smallest gain makes you "inefficient". It's insufficient to like things or like people, but you must always be ready to explain why you like them, or people will think you're soft in the head.

On top of all that, altruism isn't as rare as you might think. Sometimes you just don't noticing it going on. Also, sometimes people are ashamed (really! think about it!) of their own altruistic tendencies and cover them up by inventing selfish motives to excuse their altruism.

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (1)

danpsmith (922127) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312641)

If it's so "basic" to the brain then why is it the exception in human society and not the rule? Sure you've got the basic need as a parent to provide for the family and to others of your pack/tribe. But "altruism" in its known sense as just giving to somebody you don't even know? If it's so "basic" we'd all be in the homeless kitchens in Thanksgiving (in the US) instead of at home.

If "sex" is so "basic" to the brain then nobody would willingly choose not to have sex. If "hunger" is so "basic" to the brain then nobody would go without food willingly. We often ignore our altruistic impulses in the same way we ignore our impulses to go to the bathroom or eat or drink. We aren't prone to have to obey these things because we have tolerance. A modern man can control his/her impulses. If being altruistic means that you can't accomplish some other, higher goal at the moment you might choose otherwise, despite its pleasurable effects.

Do something good for someone else and tell me it doesn't have any pleasurable effect on the brain at all. It definitely does. People who do volunteer work are often some of the happiest people, this maybe being one of the reasons. Saying if x then y without any proof isn't going to prove much of anything. These people have done the research, and it certainly agrees with what I've found. Just because you ignore a basic source of pleasure doesn't mean that it isn't a source.

Re:Yeah I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree (3, Insightful)

skorch (906936) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312713)

Altruism is most certainly not the exception; it only appears as such on a large scale because of the structure of modern society. The summary doesn't discuss it, but the theory plays along with a lot of well known psychological behaviors that have to do with in-group vs. out-group behavior. The vast majority of people are certainly much more altruistic within communities of peers that they can view in some capacity as in-group, whereas we have evolved to be naturally suspicious and slightly xenophobic of communities we may identify as out-group (only with deliberate and conscious effort do we counteract this natural tendency on a cultural or national level).

The makeup of modern society, especially in urban settings, has heavily favored most people being socially anonymous with the majority of the people they may encounter, and thus viewing the vast majority of a population on an individual level as out-group (less likely to say hi to someone randomly on the street), but most people within the same country (or ethnicity, or religion) as nationally or culturally in-group (e.g. more likely to contribute to national charities supporting Katrina relief, or supporting veterans etc.).

Certainly it isn't hard to see the altruistic in-group mentality displayed on an individual level within one's own family or circle of friends. I don't know a single person who wouldn't be willing to accept temporary inconveniences or sacrifices for the benefit of one of their friends or family members. It is people who don't fit that model that I would view as more of the exception. Altruistic behavior is all too common, it just doesn't always get noticed or recognized on a large scale

Lift each other up (4, Interesting)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312273)

I know it may be slightly warm and fuzzy, but imagine a world where we lifted each other up, instead of constantly tearing each other down. Not to say that due criticism would be curtailed, but instead that our efforts be focused on others, instead of ourselves. The world would be much easier if we weren't constantly bombarded with what could be summed up as "drama" from others and instead worked together. It's just really hard when everyone around you is a stranger, the idea of family has been all but lost, and the world is going at a pace that you can hardly keep up with.

Re:Lift each other up (2, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312371)

This kind of thinking has to be ingrained early in childhood, by both word and deed. Those of us who teach this to our children are constantly frustrated by the parents who don't. And those who don't are in a decided majority.

Not that it would matter. No matter how inclusive and positive a group is, at some point someone will feel slighted as not all resouces are infinite. Once one person is turned against the group it becomes more and more likely that the system will break down. I'm not entirely certain that the societal limit isn't awfully close to the monkeyspace size.

Re:Lift each other up (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312653)

We live in the world you propose. Look at cats: are they ever going to develop civilization? Dogs, however... the point being: cooperation, sharing research (violating IP laws!) is behavior intended to further the group's well-being, while at the same time furthering the individual's well-being by being associated with the new-found gains.

To make a long story short: if you look at zero-sum games, and have a large number of players playing zero-sum games repeatedly with one another, players that show altruistic behavior will do very well when playing together -- so well that they will eventually outcompete players that show non-trusting or actively distrusting behavior. So, after a while, you select for altrustic behavior. But at the same time, each individual player always has a strong incentive to behave selfishly, since the benefit to that player might be great enough to offset the future losses from being identified as a non-trustworthy player. This, in a nutshell, is human civilization. We are caught between the desire to cooperate and help one another, because it's a successful strategy under most circumstances, and the desire to make a fast break and run off with all the money, because it's an amazingly successful strategy under some unusual circumstances.

The church I was raised in said, essentially, that the essence of evil was not a personified being but the draw of behavior that helps an individual at a cost to society as a whole. Their view of the world is, essentially, exactly what you're proposing: a world in which being Good is necessarily focussing your efforts on others in an attempt to bootstrap your whole {family,community,world} up to a higher place.

Re:Lift each other up (2, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312725)

What you're describing is basically the hunter-gatherer tribal lifestyle that modern humans evolved in. It was a great big extended family, and more often then not, people would freely help each other. The tribe had ambiguous relationships with other tribes; they need each other for trade and intermarriage, but they also compete for resources and usually have long-running revenge cycles ( for instance, check out the Yanomamo. The anthropologist Chagnon's informants were surprised to find out he had no son -- "Who will avenge your death?" )

Nowadays, we live separated from our extended families literally amongst strangers. A city is basically a bunch of different families and tribes mashed together in close quarters. In hunter-gatherer societies, when "strangers" or different families and tribes get together, strict ritual is followed, so that nobody does or says something that would unintendedly hurt one another, and it doesn't escalate to violence. Our civilized social rules or "manners" are basically rituals for dealing with strangers, which we have to do a lot in modern society. We have very complex and subtle rituals to deal with cashiers, bosses, people on the sidewalk; all of the casual acquaintances that make up most of our social interaction in the city. These rituals override our innate helping behavior, which evolved to help our relatives living with us.

If you're getting brain activity... (4, Interesting)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312277)

...that's similar to that when you get food and/or sex from doing "good things", doesn't that possibly mean that doing good things is historically/genetically programmed into us as one common way to get more more food and sex? And if you are doing good deeds in anticipation of that "dinner and a movie," it isn't really altruistic, is it?

warning, possible flamebait follows:
If you're a Christian, is it impossible to be altruistic? If you do good deeds, don't you ingratiate yourself witht he Lord, thereby increasing your chance of being admitted to heaven? So, even if you don't really "get" anything for doing good deeds, you're still going to get a reward for it in the afterlife right? Which would mean it wasn't really altrustic.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (1)

Kiba Ruby (1037440) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312415)

As far as I know for some Christians, you must believe in god and all is forgiven and good work will come with your faith. While the Catholics believe things differently, they believe that you must work for the lord to get admited to haven.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312519)

I'm not Catholic, but you are mischaracterizing their dogma a little bit there.

According to Catholicism, you are saved by grace, just as with protestants. However, the Roman Church emphasizes the concept that "faith without works is dead."

Meaning that, if you're not going out of your way to help the needy and behave with compassion, etc., you're not really being faithful.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312419)

If you're a Christian, is it impossible to be altruistic?

No.

If you do good deeds, don't you ingratiate yourself witht he Lord, thereby increasing your chance of being admitted to heaven?

No, you don't.

So, even if you don't really "get" anything for doing good deeds, you're still going to get a reward for it in the afterlife right?

Wrong.

Which would mean it wasn't really altrustic.

Wrong again.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (4, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312467)

If you're a Christian, is it impossible to be altruistic? If you do good deeds, don't you ingratiate yourself witht he Lord, thereby increasing your chance of being admitted to heaven?

Nope.

It is axiomatic of Christianity that we've all "earned" nothing more than death, and it's only by divine grace that we are reunited with God. The religion is not about "getting in" to an afterlife paradise for being good (though many so-called believers behave that as if it is). It's about maintaining a loving relationship with your creator, both in this life and beyond.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312503)

According to Biblical doctrine, doing good deeds does not "[increase] your chance of being admitted to heaven". That being said, for a Christian who will already be admitted to heaven, doing good deeds results in greater rewards in heaven, so your argument still stands ... but you've got some of your basics wrong.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312509)

1. You get a good response from being selfish as well. i.e. You get to have the thing in question and someone else doesn't. A good feeling of altruism still leaves you without the thing you gave up. So if your mind is warring over selfishness vs. altruism, then what makes the decision?

Being the most intelligent species on the planet, it would seem that our conscious logic centers often make this decision. Thus someone can make a decision even if they "feel bad" about it later. With time, it's quite possible to train one's self to ignore that feeling. Thus the reason why we do not always make altruistic decision.

2. In Christianity at least, you don't need to be a "good person" to get to heaven. Being a good person is how the Bible tells a Christian that they should behave. The only real test to get to heaven is, "whosoever believeth in me shall have eternal life." The Lutherans even codify this in their services, requiring the body of the church to admit that they are sinful and cannot deserve to go to heaven. They can only make it there by the Grace of God who gave his Son on the cross for that purpose.

I cannot speak to other religions on the matter, but that is the way Christianity sees it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or horrendously misinformed.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312567)

If you're actually interested in the explanation of this according to Christians, here's the basic idea. Many Christians do not believe that "good deeds" are necessary to reach heaven. They believe that faith in Jesus Christ alone is the only way to salvation.

There are also Christians that believe works on Earth play a part in it. Even they don't have a problem with these findings because the Bible doesn't say "you must do good things without reward." It does say that those who do good deeds will be rewarded many times over in heaven, and that we should be good people for the right reasons. But it doesn't tell us that we can't have a good time on Earth well doing works to glorify God.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312595)

Except that for Christians admission to heaven is not based on deeds at all. There is nothing that anyone can do in and of themselves the garner passage beyond the pearly gates. Thats the cusp of real Christian understanding. Jesus paid the price, it was by His sacrifice that we have salvation. Doing good deeds, says nothing of the heart, only prooves our depravity.

Re:If you're getting brain activity... (3, Insightful)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312701)

The good works are not sufficient to get a person to heaven. Getting to heaven, in the Christian mindset, requires a recognition and acceptance of God's forgiveness of offenses against God and neighbor, and responding with a selfless desire to please God and look out for our fellow humans. I suppose someone MIGHT do these things for a reward, but a growing and maturing Christian will grow beyond that in time. God also can read our minds and hearts, and when we die, he won't be using a checklist to see who gets in and who doesn't. If our hearts are in the correct state, as developed through a life's worth of experiences, then he will let that person into heaven.

By the standard you're using, can any act ever be altruistic? Someone always receives a reward in doing good for someone else either by having pride in being a person who can choose doing something for someone else over doing nothing, or that by doing something to improve humanity in general everybody is better off including the one doing the act.

uh oh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312283)

God's not gonna be pleased to hear about this one...

basic goodness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312297)

What this is saying is that people are basically good. This makes you wonder what influence causes us to behave in the selfish, malicious manner we have all come to love.

Re:basic goodness (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312369)

This makes you wonder what influence causes us to behave in the selfish, malicious manner we have all come to love.

MTV and the Springer Show? That's my guess.

Let's be honest, as much as most of us fly the banner of individuality the truth is that there is a ton of group think going on out there.

Re:basic goodness (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312543)

Altruism being hard wired doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be altruistic to everyone, just to people that may have a direct impact on your survival and gene propagation. Mainly, friends, family, members of your in-group, etc. We have no problem blowing other people away because, hey they're different than us.

Also, its somewhat of a glass-half-empty sort of viewpoint. I suspect that there is more altruism in the world than people realize, but we tend to focus on the negative.

Altruism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312325)

If this pans out, it's gonna play hell with objectivist theory.

Re:Altruism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312367)

If this pans out, it's gonna play hell with objectivist theory.

What on earth are you talking about? I take it you just read the title of one of Ayn's books and thought it would be witty to post about it.

No such thing as a truly altruistic act? (2, Interesting)

Applekid (993327) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312331)

"Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."

So, if altruism creates pleasure in the brain, is it still considered altruism? You ARE getting something out of it, after all.

I knew I should have paid more attention in my humanities courses, particularly Philosophy.

Signal/Noise ratio (1)

athloi (1075845) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312373)

Drugs, sex, violence, pigging out, now altruism. All are chemical reactions that make us feel good without necessarily doing good. Are humanity's signals disconnected from their results?

And what of Logic? (1)

RealProgrammer (723725) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312387)

If the evidence is that giving triggers a similar part of the brain as food or sex, might it be that those who give are anticipating receiving food or sex?
-----------
"Honey, take a look at this paycheck. Want it?"

"Sure. I made meatloaf. Mrs. Green called and they are having a garage sale at the school, to raise money for the dance. You know about the dance, the one I told you about last week when we were picking out the wallpaper for the kitchen. Mrs. Green says they should be able to open up the whole gym for the dance, unless the football team wins at State."

"It's a really big paycheck."

"Are you even listening to me? You don't care at all! All I am to you is a cook and bedwarmer. Why won't you ...."
-----------
[I don't remember my point.]

only part of the story (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312391)

there could be many more parts of the brain that derive immense pleasure in the P.T. Barnum Effect: scamming some poor chump out of his hard earned money. Or from the Highlander Movie Viewer Effect: lopping the head off of some S.O.B. just because he's annoying.

Guilt and altruism (4, Interesting)

pieterh (196118) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312399)

Altruism is also observed in vampire bats, curiously, who remember who shared blood with them previously, and who did not. Altruism is a simple kind of savings scheme. When you are lucky, you share. When you are unlucky, you borrow. It depends on a good memory and a set of rules that have to be instinctive, so everyone agrees with them. (No point if everyone randomly invents "good" and "bad" behaviour.)

Guilt, on the other hand, is waiting for the blow to fall. We don't feel guilty when there's no risk of being punished, and we don't act altruistic when there's no-one watching.

So even if the moral compass is in-built, it only activates in the presence of others.

Re:Guilt and altruism (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312681)

We don't feel guilty when there's no risk of being punished

Speak for yourself. Some of us find our personal code of ethics important to follow whether someone is watching or not.

Re:Guilt and altruism (2, Informative)

nine-times (778537) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312683)

So even if the moral compass is in-built, it only activates in the presence of others.

Well what would it mean to be altruistic outside the presence of others? Someone else needs to be involved somehow, or else there can be no object of the altruism. What I mean is that the object of altruism must always be "others", so without "others", there's no possibility of altruism or selfishness.

I am not a preprogrammed robot. BEEP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312433)

Chalk another one up to the big list of predispositions I cleansed myself of...

Perhaps (1)

mandark1967 (630856) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312445)

the lack of altruism in society today is a direct result of people becoming more "civilized" and less "humane". We've all heard the old saying about how individuals are smart, while crowds/mobs are very dumb. Maybe this is simply a function of acceptable behavior in a civilization trumping the inate humanity in people.

salivating dog (2, Funny)

mythar (1085839) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312491)

these people were obviously conditioned to expect food and sex in exchange for sums of money.

Easily Explained (5, Insightful)

CompCons (650700) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312495)

I see alot of people discussing what this means... It's all very simple. Way back in time when we all lived in small tribes we were surrounded mostly by people who we shared DNA with. Most of the people around us were immediate or extended family. We can also assume that a group of people who are sometimes generous with each other will survive better than people who are strictly selfish. If we put those two facts together and stir it with some evolution... what do you get? People who help each other are more likely to survive as a group. So if we have two tribes, one family that has only selfish tendencies and one that has generous tendencies; the generous family is more likely to survive as a whole. There's no secret here. Nothing ground breaking has happened, simply more evidence for evolution.

Re:Easily Explained (1)

Corporate Drone (316880) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312695)

hmm... i think you're confusing evolution with natural selection.

It's not that humanity evolves into a more loving, caring society; it's just that those social groups who are more generous are preferred in getting their genes passed on to future generations...

So when they pass the plate in church... (1)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312515)

So when they pass the plate in church, it's kind of like public sex?

Seems obvious (2, Insightful)

skintigh2 (456496) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312531)

According to evolutionary theory: since society benefits the individual evolution ought to favor traits that help form and maintain societies. For instance: faith and altruism. I would imagine other animals that live in colonies or collectives have similar mechanisms. Perhaps not faith, but feel reward for performing whatever their limited role is before dying without the opportunity or even ability to reproduce.

What's most surprising is that scientists are still surprised by this, as if they have never heard of evolution or thought about it's affect on society. Perhaps these are the same scientists who agree that emotions are in primitive parts of our brain yet insist "primitive" animals don't have emotions.

Yawn... (1)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312533)

I'm not sure why the Post is just getting around to this when everybody else was discussing it back in March:

USA Today [usatoday.com]

The BBC [bbc.co.uk]

Reuters [reuters.com] . This last one has some interesting speculation on why altruism may be related to the similarly-entrenched idea that it's not OK to kiss your sister.

I was going to put something troll-ish in here about the fact that Slashdot seems to be serving up quite a bit of this warmed-over stuff recently--days and days after it's hit the mainstream news outlets. It would probably be a more effective use of time to go and read the article about Google and malware...

just what we need... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312535)

another study that aids reckless selfish people in justifying and rationalizing their habits and routines. don't get me wrong on this. my mother has worked with special / mr / autistic children since i was about 13, and she is still in the field all these years later. i, myself couldnt handle that type of work, but she genuinely cares about the children (amazing how few of those types of teachers exist in the usa anymore). my problem is that people use a supposed diagnosis to back up their actions.
 
"oh, sorry i threw that coffee in your face, im bipolar"
who cares? im bipolar, when i was a child they tried to put me on lithum. i was one of those kids that refused to take medication, and during the initial years of my diagnosis --i also-- used it as an excuse. my add and bipolar2 became my pass to do whatever i wanted whenever i wanted. a few years later i realized just how childish that is and snapped out of it--but alot of people dont. ever. does that make me better than them? no. i do believe i have the seemingly rare ability to judge myself and my actions. im convinced other people had it, too, they choose not to use it until it became lost in a perpetual habit.
 
some of those autistic children were something else. almost like savants. one was really mild mr, he couldn't add 1 and 1 regardless of how many times you told him how-- but, if you played a rap song one time, he could repeat the lyrics word for word (and did, much to my mothers disliking.)

i always thought as a child "i cant wait to grow up, adult life will be great, all this childish nonsense will be a thing of the past" only to find out, the childish nonsense doesn't disappear, it matures into something far worse.

But is there a cure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312573)

I mean other than electroshock or a blow to the head?

As I write this, one person owes me $80, another owes me $75, one owes me $30, and two more owe me ten each. I'm storing three homeless friends' possessions in my basement for them until they can get back on their feet.

Somebody help me! I'm worse than a junkie or a runner!

-mcgrew

Ethics. (3, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312613)

Humanity is a social animal. We form packs. We are hardwired to be pack-supporting; you see a huge natural disaster and people rush to the area to help...They don't turn and run the other way. A child gets lost in the mountains, and you get hordes of volunteers tromping around and getting themselves lost in the search.

This is not behaviour that is smart for the individual. Risking your own life for others? Not something you see often in the animal kingdom. But it is something that occurs among humans, and it is a big part of what we consider "good".

Philosophically, ethics falls into two distinct branches: relativism, and objectivism.

Relativism basically states that good and evil are relative...Relative to you personally, relative to your culture, relative to your psychological state. It fits with people's differing views on what is right and wrong; I think it's right, you think it's wrong, we're both correct. Basically it's worthless. If you're a relativist, morals are meaningless, because you can only apply moral judgements to yourself, and what the hell point is there in that?

Objectivism states that good and evil are objective...That there are things that everyone should agree are right and everyone should agree are wrong. Logically, objectivism must be correct, because the alternative is relativism, and relativism is worthless. But no one agrees about right and wrong, so how can it be right?

But when you look at it in terms of humanity as a social animal, it becomes a little clearer. The "Robin Hood" story is a classic example: Stealing is bad, except when you're stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, right? Obviously the group that is being stolen from (the rich) still think it's bad, but since the vast majority of people are not rich, historically it's been considered good.

Mill came up with the theory of Utilitarianism to attempt to explain this sort of thing: in a nutshell, whatever makes the majority happy is right, and whatever makes the majority unhappy is wrong. Politicians live by this one, because they never have to actually consider the greater good, they just have to make 51% happy until the next election. So adding a tax on gasoline to reduce consumption and using the money to pay for better public transit and research into cleaner energy, while probably the "right" thing to do, would never fly because it would piss off 80% of people and the guy'd get canned in the next election by someone running on a "repeal the gas tax" platform.

So utilitarianism clearly needs some work...Reduce "good" into "happy" and you end up with nothing but bread and circuses, because that would make people happy, and happy == good. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with democracy.

So we have a hardwired inclination toward altruism. It definitely explains a few things. The problem is, humanity has a lot of hardwiring. We have tons of instincts, reflexes, automatic responses. Most people learn to override those things as part of their day to day life. Can't live purely on instinct. So what value is it to have a piece of altrustic hardwiring in a society that preaches just the opposite? Altruism is an irrational response, from the point of view of the thing that's about to put its squishy coropreal self in harm's way.

Still, it's nice to know that, if you're trying to be altrusitic, if you're trying to be selfless, you're instinctive responses are going to be in line with your conscious actions. Maybe everyone...most everyone...really does have some good in them, whether they like it or not.

More Stupid Journalists (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312633)

For one, the research doesn't show that altruism is "hardwired", despite what Shankar Vedantam writes in the Washington Post. The brain has very little "hardwired" responses, especially for such complex and abstract behavior as "altruism". There are organs, nerve bundles, and the like, and surely some consequential neural connects at all scales of influence are determined by human genetics in a very consistent behavior (eg, the 12 cranial nerves). But even those "hardwired" connections aren't well understood, nor are the possibilities that environment after conception can make them very different.

For another, just because altruism stimulates (some of) the same brain parts that sex and good food stimulate, doesn't mean that altruism is not "higher moral behavior". If higher moral behavior didn't stimulate neurons that we feel as pleasure, then higher moral behavior wouldn't feel good. Why not? Does god hate pleasure? Must all pleasure come from doing wrong? What kind of sick, immoral person thinks like that?

This is just another journalist copout: we're not really good, or even responsible for what we do, because "we're wired that way". It's stupid, immoral, and should feel awful. But journalists like Vedantam and their editors seem to like it.

it's about time (1)

flushingmemos (1022877) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312651)

Behavioral neuroscience has been putting out some interesting findings (look at any issue of Scientific American Mind), even if they are easily distorted and used as excuses for crappy behavior. That includes, IMHO, conservatives who are looking to neuro to justify their worldview - selfishness, selfishness, selfishness. But reality cuts in many ways, and at the end of the day science is going to reflect the whole of human nature expressed across all society's stripes. So while there is plenty of work supporting the reality of selfish, cowardly and lazy citizen that conservatism presupposes, the other side of human nature is becoming equally represented, in research like TFA talks about.

On an even happier note, game theory continues to undercut the "rational economic actor" that underlies the precious free-marketeering so many slashdotters jerk their knees to... All in all, it looks like, while behavioral neuro is going to spawn a thousand shitty covers of Time Magazine ("Are You Hard-Wired to Hate Mexicans?") at the end of the day, a lot of bull is going to get cut, and people will be brought down to earth, de-ideologized. That's good.

Obligatory (0, Troll)

skintigh2 (456496) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312655)

Ignore these heathen scientist and their secular morality fantasies, everyone going to heaven knows that true morals come from [insert religion] and atheists are immoral swine. Oh, and don't judge others.

Eve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19312671)

So I guess these researchers have never played EVE Online?

Scammers, pirates, ore thieves, gankers, suiciders, n00b killers, bullies and griefers.

(of course, there are some nice folks still playing. I salute you, 3 people outside my corp I've never met)

Any Philosopher Worth His Salt (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312699)

Any philosopher worth his salt could have told you something similar to this. No one does something they don't like to do. Period. You always do want you want to do.

It is a tautology. That you find pleasure in helping people isn't a surprise because people help others. But not all the time. So being lazy or unhelpful is in the mix too.

It doesn't work (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 7 years ago | (#19312731)

I've tried that bit about generosity being as pleasurable as sex, but the hookers still insist on cash in advance.
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