Human Motivation the Influential Drive Behind Human Altruism

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Human motivation the influential drive behind human altruism At the forefront of social psychology the issue of what motivates one to act in a prosocial manner has arisen with a vast array of theory and response. The heart of the topic lies in the ambiguity as to whether one acts altruistically as a result of an innate response of empathy and compassion, or merely due to self interest. By definition altruism refers to, “behaviour that helps people with no apparent gain or with potential cost to one’s self”, (Western 2006). Yet, this concept in itself is not unproblematic in that undoubtedly displays of altruism exist, but may not ultimately be driven by selflessness. Motivation is indisputably the integral drive behind human behaviour, and is the most crucial factor influencing human altruism. Reciprocal altruism; simply the idea that we offer assistance and expect it returned, is undeniably practiced with the motivation of one’s personal wellbeing in mind. Similarly, the concept of motivation also provides a logical understanding of kin selection whereby we are inclined to help our genetic related, as aiding one’s family will ultimate better one’s self. A cost rewards analysis, as well as social exclusion can also be depicted as highly motivated by a person’s needs and survival; and therefore can once more be deemed selfish. Thus, by grasping a concrete understanding of one’s ultimate purpose in a given situation, the question as whether we are driven by a natural selfless capacity or with intention of maximizing personal gain can be ascertained. Unquestionably, acts of genuine and authentic altruism exist, however in situations that help is required, consciously or subconsciously the helper is more likely to personally benefit from their action, than not.

A motive refers to the goal or object of a person’s action. Human nature is inherently selfish, therefore when deciding whether to engage in a prosocial act; an individual’s primary concern is oneself. This is not always conscious to the individual, yet whether it is a simple question of the motives for an occupation, or concern for the environment; it is linked to maximizing personally or for society as a whole. Krous (2005), conducted research in order to determine what would motivate people in help related fields such as psychology, education and nursing to work with underserved populations; which consist of groups such as ethnic minorities, the mentally ill, the homeless and elderly. The research was conducted using 135 students from Midwestern University majoring in help related fields. Whilst factors such as work autonomy, troubled past experiences or a parent in a helping profession did inspire some to work with such groups, economic reward and prosperity as well as diverse training proved to be vital to a vast majority. Another way in which we can relate people’s motivations with the concern for themselves is through their view on the environment. This was put to the test through a study by Berenguer (2007) whereby participants were presented with illustrations of eight large trees being cut down and a dead bird on the beach covered in oil. The findings concluded that participants conveyed empathy and were dismayed by the devastating state of the environment. One needs to pose the question; what motivates one to act altruistically toward the environment? The simple fact that they are ultimately a part of the environment that they endeavor to save, and thus prevent the personal and societal hardship that would follow its total destruction.

The concept that an individual’s sense of belonging in a group impacts upon their willingness to behave in a socially caring manner, once more brings the notion of selfishness to the fore. People are encouraged by their culture and society to take part in prosocial behavior. While engaging in a prosocial act often entails risk and cost to oneself, in the big picture, belonging to a group provides...
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