Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


de Waal on Altruism and Empathy

Another great paper in the 2008 Annual Review of Pyschology:

Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy

Evolutionary theory postulates that altruistic behavior evolved for the return-benefits it bears the performer. For return-benefits to play a motivational role, however, they need to be experienced by the organism. Motivational analyses should restrict themselves, therefore, to the altruistic impulse and its knowable consequences. Empathy is an ideal candidate mechanism to underlie so-called directed altruism, i.e., altruism in response to anothera€™s pain, need, or distress. Evidence is accumulating that this mechanism is phylogenetically ancient, probably as old as mammals and birds. Perception of the emotional state of another automatically activates shared representations causing a matching emotional state in the observer.With increasing cognition, state-matching evolved into more complex forms, including concern for the other and perspective-taking. Empathy-induced altruism derives its strength from the emotional stake it offers the self in the othera€™s welfare. The dynamics of the empathy mechanism agree with predictions from kin selection and reciprocal altruism theory.

See also, in In-Mind, a new online magazine about social cognition: