Altruism - True Altruism Does Not Exist

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“True altruism does not exist”. Discuss with reference to psychological theory and research.
Many have defined altruism in a similar context, a special form of helping behaviour that is “an act that is motivated by the desire to benefit another individual rather than oneself” (Hogg &Vaughan, 2008). An altruistic act does not necessarily have a negative or zero value to the actor (Margolis, 1982) but a true altruistic act is detrimental to the actor's fitness and enhances another individual’s fitness, in other words, a selfless act (Batson, 1991). Throughout the evolution of altruism, there have been many controversies about the existence of true altruism. Most theories have argued that it stems from ulterior motives, but does that prove that true altruism does not exist?

On the evolution perspective, Darwin states that natural selection favours organisms that are only concerned about their own welfare rather than the others as they are able to survive and leave more descendants carrying their genes. However, the bee phenomenon, where worker bees devote themselves to feeding the offspring of the hive’s queen instead of trying to reproduce themselves, has contradicted his findings (Dingfelder, 2006). Hamilton’s (1964) kin of selection theory explained this phenomenon. According to him, individuals would evolve a sense of altruism that is more susceptible to individuals that are genetically related. Thus, individuals only behave altruistically to their close relatives in order to save the genes for the future generations.

There are other theories and researches done towards individuals that are not genetically related to them but involves gaining benefits directly and indirectly. One of them is Trivers’s concept on reciprocal altruism where an individual acts altruistically to another individual at present, even if it decreases the fitness, they would expect returns in the future from the other individual such as performing an altruistic act. This can be



References: Batson, C. D. (1991). The Altruism Question: Toward a Social-Psychological Answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. China Daily (2006). Experiment finds that true altruism lies in babies ' helping hands. (Online) China: People 's Daily Online. Available at: http://english.people.com.cn/200603/05/eng20060305_247996.html . (Accessed at 30 November 2009). Choi, C. Q. (2007). Selfless Chimps Shed Light on Evolution of Altruism. (Online)USA: TechMediaNetwork. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/animals/070625_chimp_altruism.html . (Accessed at 30 November 2009). Dingfelder, S. F. (2006). Altruism: an accident of nature? (Online)USA: American Psychologist Association. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec06/altruism.html . (Accessed at 2 December 2009). Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetic evolution of social behaviour I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1-52. Hogg, M. & Vaughan, G.(2008). Social Psychology (Fifth Edition). UK: Pearson Mandeville, B. (1732). The fable of the bees: Or, private vices, public benefits. London: J. Tonson. Margolis, H. (1982). Selfishness, Altruism & Rationality. New York: Cambridge University Press Trivers, R.L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology. 46: 35-57.

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