Social Psychology 324
Does true altruism exist?
The concept of altruism has been around for a long time and the debate on its existence has been for almost as long in both philosophical and psychological circles. Altruism has been defined by Batson et al., (1981); the motivation that arises within in an individual to help another in distress, from the desire to reduce the other’s distress. Some have argued that true altruism does not exist. Those believe that every act of kindness us humans commit has an underlying ulterior motive; we help others to help ourselves. This is known as egoism, and current theories regarding the existence of altruism tend to be egoistic; that is, everything we do is directed towards one end-state goal, and that is benefiting ourselves. And benefiting ourselves does not necessarily entail gaining something in return for performing the act, but merely reducing our own personal distress by seeing another’s distress, can be defined as egoistic. Our distress (guilt, shock, fear) was as a result of seeing another in distress and by helping the other person by reducing their distress is not an act of altruism, but egoism, as reducing their distress reduced our own distress.
A study was done by Cialdini et al., (1987) which provided a hypothesis supporting the egoistic theory. They performed two experiments in which they came to conclude that helping another in distress was as a result of relieving the personal sadness within the observer that arose from the heightened empathy the observer felt for the sufferer, rather than the selfless act to relieve the sufferer of their distress. In the first experiment conducted, it was found that high-empathy-set subjects did show elevated helping scores, but that they were no longer helpful when they received a sadness-canceling reward. Therefore, it is as a result of personal sadness that led to