Sociology Index


Altruism is social behaviour and value orientation in which individuals give primary consideration to the interests and welfare of other individuals, members of groups or the community as a whole. In altruistic regard for others is the principle of action.

The term altruism was used by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) to describe a Suicide as Altruistic Suicide, committed for the benefit of others or for the community: this would include self-sacrifice for military objectives in wartime. Sociobiologists argue that altruism and altruistic behaviour has its roots in self-interest, the unconscious desire to protect one's genetic heritage.

Critics of sociobiology respond that altruism is evident between individuals and in situations where people are completely unrelated genetically and that human conduct and motivations cannot be explained without reference to the values and norms of culture.

Altruistic punishment and the origin of cooperation - How did human cooperation evolve? Recent evidence shows that many people are willing to engage in altruistic punishment, voluntarily paying a cost to punish noncooperators. Although this behavior helps to explain how cooperation can persist, it creates an important puzzle.

If altruistic punishment provides benefits to nonpunishers and is costly to punishers, then how could it evolve? Drawing on recent insights from voluntary public goods games, I present a simple evolutionary model in which altruistic punishers can enter and will always come to dominate a population of contributors, defectors, and nonparticipants. The model suggests that the cycle of strategies in voluntary public goods games does not persist in the presence of punishment strategies. It also suggests that punishment can only enforce payoff-improving strategies, contrary to a widely cited "folk theorem" result that suggests that punishment can allow the evolution of any strategy. - James H. Fowler, Univ of California. Edited by Henry C. Harpending, University of Utah.

Religious Altruism and Organ Donation 
David J. Dixon, M.D., M.A., F.R.C.P.C, and Susan E. Abbey, M.D., F.R.C.P.C. 
From the Department of Psychiatry, Toronto General Hospital & University of Toronto
Clinicians performing psychiatric assessments of potential organ donors must consider the motivations behind an act that is—strictly in terms of its physiological implications, entirely altruistic. The authors present two case reports in which proposed kidney donors conceptualized their offers exclusively in terms of their religious beliefs and not in terms of kinship or emotional intimacy with the intended recipients. The negative reactions of some clinicians to the offers reveal the readiness with which religious beliefs can be pathologized and the way in which biological relationships can unduly restrict the clinical understanding of healthy altruism.

Self Interest, Altruism, Incentives, and Agency Theory 
MICHAEL C. JENSEN, Harvard Business School; The Monitor Company; Social Science Electronic Publishing (SSEP), Inc. 
Abstract: Many people are suspicious of self-interest and incentives and oppose motivating humans through incentives. I analyze the meaning of incentives in the logic of choice and argue that it is inconceivable that purposeful actions are anything other than responses to incentives. Money is not always the best way to motivate people. But where money incentives are required, they are required precisely because people are motivated by things other than money. Self-interest is consistent with altruistic motives. Agency problems, however, cannot be solved by instilling greater altruism in people because altruism, the concern for the well-being of others, does not make a person into a perfect agent who does the bidding of others.

Theory of Mind and Altruism - Lesley Black, Psychology Undergrad
Abstract: Taking another’s point of view, and the tendency to help others out, are examined in this correlational study of five year-olds. Theory of mind and Altruism are both centered on an individual thinking about others’ thoughts and thus should be highly correlated. The battery consists of second-order theory of mind measures, altruism inventories, and inhibitory control tasks. Verbal mental ability, age and the inhibitory control measures will be used as control variables. A Guttmann scale was found for difficulty in comprehension of the second order theory of mind tests. The two inhibitory control variables were found to be highly correlated. Additionally the positive and negative emotion picture tests were also highly correlated. Inhibitory control was found to be correlated with second order theory of mind. Verbal mental age was also found to be correlated with second order theory of mind. Altruism and second order theory of mind were correlated, which provides support for our hypothesis.