University of California, Los Angeles
Effects of Type of Contribution and Proximity on Altruism
Human behavior has been commonly explained, on the surface, by the theory of biological natural selection as a mode of conduct grounded in individual survival. By this popular theory, all human behavior reflects an underlying purpose to propagate one’s own genetics in the population. As such, human behavior in society has been presumed to pursue self-interest that is “incompatible with mutuality or the group benefit” (Toma, 2012; Woltin, 2012). However, this simple system of explaining human behavior fails to account for the presence of various forms of altruistic behavior, which is strictly defined as “giving up one’s genetic potential in favor of the genetic potential of another” (Buck, 2011). Kin selection is a form of altruism that only slightly deviates from individual self-interest, as it describes the help provided between two individuals that are kin to one another or share similar genetic material. Thus, one’s genetic material is not fully disregarded during this interaction. However, instances of pure altruism that do not provide benefit to all parties involved- nonprofit organizations, donations, funds, etc.- are prevalent in current society, providing evidence contradicting the self-interest criterion of human behavior. Despite research and studies that confirm these prosocial tendencies expressed by individuals from all different backgrounds the self-interest model strangely maintains significant popularity as a valid explanation for human behavior. Most people when asked about acts of kindness attribute self-interest as the primary motivation, deeming any helpful repercussions as coincidental. This posits a need for a more complex model, which solves this paradox by accurately describing the interplay between altruism and self-interest. Holmes, Miller, and Lerner (2001) proposed that individuals ostensibly claim that they are motivated by selfish motives even though they may be truly compassionate. By masking their sympathetic feelings, people avoid a responsibility help more people. If a person commits an altruistic act based on genuine compassion alone, he or she may be expected to unconditionally and repeatedly help all similar victims in need. Thus, by receiving material incentives like tax deductions or even smaller products like magazines, people enjoy performing altruistic acts under the psychological cover of self-interest. Using these ideas, Holmes, Miller, and Lerner constructed the exchange fiction hypothesis in order to provide further support for the explanation of this phenomenon. They predicted that people are more likely to commit altruistic acts if they are provided a psychological cover such as a material incentive. In their experiment, the experimenters approached participants and asked for monetary contributions on behalf of charitable organizations. Half of the participants were asked to make a true donation, a one-way transaction in which they give the charity a sum of money and receive nothing in return. The other half of participants were asked to donate through the purchase of decorative candles. The candles do not exhibit enough material value to be independently attractive to consumers. Hence, if they impact donations, they do so as the psychological cover individuals look for when performing altruism. Moreover, the experimenters manipulated the degree to which the victims need help- low, moderate, and high. A midget soft ball team in need of sports equipment represented low need, handicapped children represented moderate need, and emotionally disturbed handicapped children represented high need. The average amount of money collected under each combination of conditions was used as a measure to compare these factors. The results strongly corresponded with the exchange fiction model. Under the donation...