Altruism: Selfishness or God?

By Jeremy Adam Smith | January 22, 2007 | 0 comments

Altruism has been a hot topic in the blogosphere during the past 24 hours. has an interesting overview of the debate over the origins of altruism. The author concludes:

In any case, people have tried to explain away altruism in all its forms by attributing it all to one thing, like selfishness, or God. I think it helps to step back and really think about how the development of a trait is influenced by many factors, and is not easily reducible to one idea. However we have evolved, it has happened in such a way that there are a number of ways in which we might react or behave in an urgent situation, depending on the individual and numerous other factors. It is also important to realize that natural selection isn't some kind of orchestrated process sorting out the "bad" traits from the "good" ones. Evolution is pretty random sometimes, and has resulted in an amazing diversity of behaviors and traits.

Meanwhile, John Hawks notes a new study in Nature Neuroscience that "claims to have spotted a brain correlate of altruism" — namely, the posterior superior temporal sulcus. You can find the study itself here and a simple summary of the methodologies and results here:

The results suggest altruistic behavior may originate from how people view the world rather than how they act in it…"We believe that the ability to perceive other people's actions as meaningful is critical for altruism," [said one researcher].

In other news: McLean Hospital in Boston is launching a Positive Psychology institute "that will aim to teach healthcare providers and patients some of the more practical tenets of positive psychology, a mix of science and self-help that has been growing explosively in academia and building buzz in the media." This might be the first effort of its kind.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Greater Good. He is also the author or coeditor of four books, including The Daddy Shift, Are We Born Racist?, and The Compassionate Instinct. Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a 2010-11 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. You can follow him on Twitter!


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It
International House at UC Berkeley
April 29, 2017
6 CE Hours

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It

A day-long semiar with GGSC Science Director Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., celebrated compassion teacher Joan Halifax, burnout expert Christina Maslach, Ph.D., and UCLA psychiatrist Elizabeth Bromley, M.D., Ph.D.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement