Sunday, June 05, 2005

Altruism in Humans

This has been a quiet Saturday for me. I didn't even leave the house until about 5:30. I worked on garden tour things and painted in the upstairs room some more.

Then I went and met Jocelyn and Diana for dinner. I was ready for a real meal as I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. I just wanted to keep working.

Jocelyn and I had planned to go to Roys at lunch but she had some other things come up so we decided on dinner instead so we could be relaxed.

While I was soaking in the tub, trying to get the paint off, I was reading about some new brain research on altruism.

Many animals demonstrate a form of altruism toward their kin, but only humans extend it far beyond that. Previously, we've known that people will offer kindnesses when they can expect future benefits, but this study tested if people would reward cooperators and punish those who do not to along, even when it costs them to do it.

Altruism would seem to lower the chances of survival since it doesn't provide immediate benefit or gain. In fact, it's costly in resources of many sorts. But, altruism seems to be a firmly ingrained part of human behavior.

Why? Well, it seems to point to the group selection theory, which researchers have always discounted because the conditions for it could not exist. However, in this case, if the altruists populated early communities, and then punished those who didn't follow their ways --- something that seems to be ingrained in us even today --- they would effectively make altruism the norm.

Regardless of how we got here, we seem to be the only animals with a propensity toward selflessness.

I'm continually fascinated by the human.

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