on airplanes they say “always put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

what they mean is: if you want to take care of other people, you have to take care of yourself first.

being selfish is the first step to being altruistic.

Three universities did a joint study over five years in which they followed 846 people and recorded how stressful their lives were (tallying stuff like financial hardship or deaths in the family) and how much time they had spent helping others. Out of 846 people, 134 of the participants died within those five years. Researchers cracked open their records to see whether there was any connection between being especially nice to people and meeting an untimely end. That’s pretty intuitive: Nice people finish last, right? If you’re always out there helping people, one of them is eventually going to throw you in a van and use your mutilated corpse as a prop in a twisted tableau about the fate of sinners. Everybody knows that.

Shockingly, it skewed the other way: People who helped out less experienced increased mortality. Of course, freak accidents do occur, and altruists aren’t all Ned Flanders Highlanders, but it seems that there is some correlation after you correct for those who randomly fell down mineshafts. The theory is that if you’re actually participating in society in a positive way, you’re more inclined to stick around in that society a little longer. When stressful situations occur, your body is less likely to implode if you have positive social connections. Basically, it helps if you have a reason to live aside from seeing how Game of Thrones ends. In fact, the researchers suggest that, according to their study, a life of good deeds may mean up to a 30 percent reduced level of mortality due to stress.

5 ‘Sucker’ Behaviors That Secretly Give You an Advantage

Atlanta couple hosts ritzy meal for homeless after daughter cancels wedding

A kind-hearted Atlanta couple made the best out of a bad situation by donating their daughter’s canceled wedding reception to the homeless.

Carol and Willie Fowler decided that the first-rate meal they had reserved for Sunday, Sept. 15 at upmarket Villa Christina restaurant shouldn’t go to waste so they invited 200 of the Atlanta’s destitute to join them.

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anonymous asked:

Could you please explain why there is no contradiction between the selfish gene theory and moral behavior

Okay, fair enough, I’ll try to explain.

There may be a bit of confusion stemming from the word how the word “selfish” is used. Selfish gene theory says that any adaptation that allows a gene to get passed on will get passed on. This isn’t just speculation; it’s common sense. We regularly talk about genes like they are sentient, like they choose to be this or that, but of course this is not true. An allele for stealing isn’t actually selfish, but it may happen to allow an organism to survive better than the organism that has the allele for generosity. Depending on who gets the opportunity to produce offspring, traits are preserved or extinguished (or sometimes in-between).

That doesn’t mean that that adaptation is inherently selfish or mean or anything like that; in fact, there are many cases in which doing good deeds benefits an individual and allows them to pass on their genes. Take my stealing example from earlier. It’s true that, say, a gull that steals fish from others is conserving more energy than those that honestly go out and catch fish. This would theoretically make it more fit, and produce more offspring.

However, as this gull then passes on these “stealing alleles” and the trait becomes more numerous in the population, something gradually begins to shift. If 95% of a population works and 5% of the population steals from them, the thieves are making bank. There are a lot of other gulls around to steal from. But what if the stealing allele does so well that 50% of the population works and 50% of the population steals? Suddenly finding a target gets a lot harder, and the working gulls probably defend their food much more fiercely. If there were ever a population where 100% of them stole, they’d be SOL, because nobody would ever catch any fish in the first place.

Ok, so stealing sucks, obviously, and it would be better off if nobody did it. So you think. But as the stealing allele gets outcompeted by the good, hardworking gulls who catch their own food, it suddenly becomes advantageous again. It’s an example of a trait that’s only advantageous if it is rare in the population. This is called negative frequency-dependent selection, and it means that while the trait will probably never be common, it’s so advantageous when it’s rare that it won’t disappear, either.

Of course, things are not actually as simple as there being a gene for stealing versus a gene for working. In fact, gulls, like us, can choose whether or not to work or steal, and when there are a lot of successful gulls out there, some less well-off ones will inevitably steal from them. Perhaps we could call these “robin hood gulls.” (See evolutionarily stable strategy.)

My point here is that, if you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, morality arises because of selfish gene theory. Organisms may be predisposed to help their relatives because this helps pass on their genes. Of course sometimes organisms help those that they are not related to- what then? Well, as it turns out, usually something called ‘reciprocal altruism’ is in play.

The most famous example of this is vampire bats. These bats MUST feed every night, or nearly every night, or else they will starve. If some colony members don’t get a chance to feed, they will beg others to regurgitate blood for them. And others often do. This is risky, because they might need that blood; however, the well-fed bats have a stake in helping even their non-relatives. The stake is that when those bats in turn have a bad night, they can expect others to help them.

Two interesting aspects of this: for one, if a bat takes but never gives, inevitably the others will notice and stop giving that bat any blood. The opposite is true: if a bat gives frequently, it is far more likely to get frequently.

Admittedly, perhaps some of the hyperbole I used in my latest article debunking group selection caused this confusion. I probably should have brought up reciprocal altruism in that case- but while it seems similar, it is not considered group selection.

The difference between blood-sharing by bats versus something like alarm calling is that in the case of blood-sharing, it is very easy to detect cheaters (i.e., you can tell who takes more than they give). But when someone cheats at alarm-calling- i.e., they don’t call when they see a predator- no one in the group can really be signaled out as the cheater.

In the case of alarm calling, this means that there is no impetus not to cheat, and cheating may be advantageous. Which is why, in most cases, alarm-calling is meant to be directed towards close relatives (see the ground squirrel for a good example of that) or meant to signal the predator that it has been seen.

Taken all together, you can see where all of these aspects of animal behavior could form a base for human morality: prosocial behaviors such as helping others will boost your reputation and make it more likely that observers will help you, and antisocial “cheating” behaviors are only rarely effective (but when they are, they’re so effective that it’s quite difficult to resist the urge to cheat if somebody’s looking the other way). Again, selfish gene theory doesn’t contradict moral behavior at all- it actually lends itself to explain it.

(And a good action is still good whether you do it for a reward or not.)

Further Reading:

Carter, G. G., & Wilkinson, G. S. (2013). Food sharing in vampire bats: reciprocal help predicts donations more than relatedness or harassment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1753), 20122573.

De Waal, F. (2009). Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. Princeton University Press.

Faurie, C., & Raymond, M. (2005). Handedness, homicide and negative frequency-dependent selection. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1558), 25-28. **take this one with a large grain of salt**

Stephens, C. (1996). Modelling reciprocal altruism. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 47(4), 533-551.

Taylor, R. J., Balph, D. F., & Balph, M. H. (1990). The evolution of alarm calling: a cost-benefit analysis. Animal behaviour, 39(5), 860-868.

The problem is that empathy – the attempt to feel or think how someone else is feeling or thinking – isn’t a reliable way of doing good. For one thing, we find it easier to empathise with better-looking people, and with those of the same race, so the more we rely on empathy as a guide to action, the more we’re vulnerable to such biases. We also get entangled in the “identifiable victim effect”: empathy makes us care more about, say, the single missing child than the thousands who might be harmed by a government policy, never mind the as-yet-unborn victims of future global warming. Bloom quotes the economist Thomas Schelling: “Let a six-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped… Let it be reported that without a sales tax the [hospitals] of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths – not many will drop a tear.” A surfeit of empathy may hurt the empathetic, too: it’s been linked to burnout and depression, neither of which make people better at helping others.

[…]Instead of empathy, Bloom concludes, we need compassion: a cooler, more rational, “more distanced love, kindness and concern for others”. A relative of his undergoing cancer treatment doesn’t like medical staff who overflow with empathy: “He gets the most from doctors who are calm when he is anxious, confident when he is uncertain.” As the Saturday Night Live writer Jack Handey wrote, before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their shoes: that way, you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have their shoes. But if you want to help them, staying planted in your own shoes may be preferable. Sure, I could feel your pain. But wouldn’t you rather I did something about it?

Stanford psychologists show that altruism is not simply innate

Ever since the concept of altruism was proposed in the 19th century, psychologists have debated whether or not people are born into the world preprogrammed to be nice to others. Now, a pair of Stanford psychologists has conducted experiments that indicate altruism has environmental triggers, and is not something we are simply born with.

In 2006, a study involving toddlers found that the 18-month-olds were willing to provide a helping hand to the experimenters without being prompted. This expression of altruistic behavior in such young children aligned with what many scientists believed to be an expression of innate altruism, and the findings have served as the basis for dozens of studies since.

Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a psychology graduate student at Stanford, andCarol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, suspected there might be more to the story. As with most experiments involving toddlers, the researchers behind the 2006 study engaged in a few minutes of play with the children, in order to make them comfortable with new people in a new setting.

But this interaction, however brief, might have primed the toddler subjects toward altruistic behavior, and affected the outcome of the experiment.

“Kids are always on the lookout for social cues, and this is a very prominent one,” said Barragan, the lead author on the research paper. “Does the person’s play indicate that they’ll care for me? These actions communicate a mutuality, and the child responds in kind.”

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Tampa salon owner remembers her past, gives homeless women free makeovers

When Tampa business owner Vanessa Howard opened her beauty salon she knew she wanted to give back to the community.

The “Giving Hands Beauty Salon” owner said she was homeless while raising her three daughters. She became suicidal. 

“I was once not having a place to stay with children and having no hope and having no dignity and so that’s what inspired me,” Howard said.

Now, she tries to give back to the homeless.

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Taylor Swift just donated a big chunk of her ‘Welcome To New York’ sales to NYC public schools

Pop singer Taylor Swift has donated $50,000 to the city’s public schools, a Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed.

The songstress, who was recently named a New York City ambassador, promised last fall to donate all proceeds from her song “Welcome To New York” to support public education in the city.

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Brain Structure of Kidney Donors May Make Them More Altruistic

That’s the finding of a study published in today’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Georgetown researchers.

Georgetown College psychology professor Abigail Marsh worked with John VanMeter, director of Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown University Medical Center, to scan the brains of 19 altruistic kidney donors.

More Sensitive to Distress

“The results of brain scans and behavioral testing suggests that these donors have some structural and functional brain differences that may make them more sensitive, on average, to other people’s distress,” Marsh explains.

The Georgetown researchers used functional MRI to record the neural activity of the kidney donors and 20 control subjects who had never donated an organ as they viewed faces with fearful, angry or neutral expressions.

Underlying Neural Basis

In the right amygdala, an emotion-sensitive brain region, altruists displayed greater neural activity while viewing fearful expressions than did control subjects.

When asked to identify the emotional expressions presented in the face images, altruists recognized fearful facial expressions relatively more accurately than the control subjects.

“The brain scans revealed that the right amygdala volume of altruists is larger than that of non-altruists,” Marsh says. “The findings suggest that individual differences in altruism may have an underlying neural basis.”

Opposite From Psychopaths?

These findings dovetail with previous research by the professor showing  structural and functional brain differences that appear to make people with psychopathic traits less sensitive to others’ fear and distress.

These differences include amygdalas that are smaller and less responsive to fearful expressions. People who are unusually altruistic may therefore be the opposite in some ways from people who are psychopathic.

To find kidney donors, the researchers reached out to the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC), a federally designated organ procurement organizations.

A Donor’s Story

Harold Mintz, former northern Virginian who volunteered with WRTC and agreed to participate in the Georgetown study, donated a kidney to an anonymous stranger he later learned was an Ethiopian refugee who had settled in Washington, D.C.

Mintz, who now lives in California and speaks to high school students about his 2000 donation, says a series of events over time led him to supply the kidney, including his father dying of cancer diagnosed too late at the age of 56.

One Valentine’s Day in 1988, Mintz and his wife were shopping separately for presents and Mintz noticed parents in a mall with a sign saying “Please Save Our Daughter’s Life.” He walked past them, then turned around and asked what they needed. It turned out the daughter had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.

The couple decided to forget about the holiday and donated blood to see if either of them were a match. But no match was found and Mintz later noticed the daughter’s obituary in the newspaper.

Stories Taken to Heart

Mintz also was surprised to hear that although the couple’s daughter had just died, they thanked everyone who tried to help and expressed hope that they might help someone else.

“All these stories just kind of stuck inside my head and every time I’d see a story about a medical story of distress, it would just kind of get put away in a file inside my heart,” Mintz says.

Marsh notes that kidney disease is now the eighth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and that living kidney donations are the best hope for restoring people to health who have kidney disease.

“Dr. Marsh’s work is a great example of how fMRI can be used to provide insight into how differences in the brain’s response can lead individuals to perform such magnanimous acts,” VanMeter says.


Aggression V. Altruism: Crash Course Psychology #40

In our final episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank discusses the ideas of Aggression and Altruism. These two things are difficult to understand and explain so sit tight and get ready to run the gauntlet of human emotions. 

If you are currently in need of help:

“An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats.

When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’ (‘UBUNTU’ in the Xhosa culture means: ‘I am because we are.)”

Picture: Osani Circle Game - taken by Jean-Pierre Hallet