PSYCH 3BA3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: Egotism, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Gratefulness

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25 Aug 2016
Chapter 11 –Empathy and Egotism: Portals to Altruism, Gratitude and Forgiveness
Defining Altruism
- Behaviour that is aimed at benefiting another person
- Can be motivated by personal egotism or can be prompted by ‘pure’ empathic desire to benefit
another person, irrespective of personal gain
- New York times reported that across the U.S 72% of Americans said they were devoting less
time to volunteering and other civic activities like providing food & shelter to those in need
oHowever in some reports within specific states it’s suggested that practices related to
economic difficulties have provided volunteering opportunities for some
The Egotism Motive
- The motive to pursue some sort of personal gain or benefit through targeted behaviour
- One of the most influential of all human motives
- Western thinkers have weighed in on the debate as to whether egotism, the sense of empathy,
or both, fuel altruistic human actions
- Since the renaissance, a prevailing view has been that altruism is best explained by the motive
of egotism
- The essence of this position is that we care for other people because it benefits us to do so
- No matter how noble the altruism may appear, those in egotism-altruism camp believe that all
altruistic actions produce an underlying benefit to the person who is doing the good deed  “I
help because it benefits me”
Forms of Egotism-Motivated Altruism
- Egotistical or self-benefiting actions involving altruism basically take one of the following three
oThe helping person gets public praise or even a monetary reward, along with self-praise
for having done that which is good
oThe helping person avoids social or personal punishments for failing to help
oThe helping person may lessen his or her personal distress at seeing another’s trauma
- Even though the helping person is motivated by personal egotism, the bottom line is that the
person renders aid to a fellow human being in need
The Empathy Motive and the Empathy – Altruism Hypothesis
- Empathy is an emotional response to the perceived plight of another person
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- Involves the ability to match another person’s emotions, a sense of tender-heartedness toward
that other person
- Batson and colleagues do not deny that some forms of altruism may occur because of egotism,
but their shared view is that under some circumstances these egotistical motives cannot
account for the helping
- In the empathy-altruism hypothesis, findings show that there are instances in which egotism
does not appear to explain such helping behaviours
oEven when physical or psychological escape from such a situation is made easy,
individuals higher in empathy still help those in need
oEvidence appears to strongly support the view that having empathy for another leads to
a greater likelihood of helping that other person
o“pure” altruism arising from human empathy has been viewed as a viable underlying
motive for helping in contrast to previous emphasis on egotism
oHumans at times are sufficiently moved by their empathies to help other people
The Genetic and Neural Foundations of Empathy
- Method for measuring genetic heritability is to compare the concordances of empathy scores in
monozygotic (identical) twins with scores of dizygotic (fraternal) twins
- Adult males: the empathy correlations for monozygotic and dizygotic twins were found to be
0.41 and 0.05 respectively
oStudies criticized because of concerns that their analytic procedures produced overly
elevated heritability score
- Other studies have found monozygotic correlations in the range of 0.22 to 0.30 as compared to
dizygotic correlations of 0.05 to 0.09
- Recent research has revealed that areas of the prefrontal and parietal cortices are essential for
- Empathy requires the capacity to form internal simulations of another’s bodily or mental states
- People who have damaged their right somatosensory cortices no longer can judge others’
emotions, and so have lost a skill that is crucial for empathy
oLikewise, damage to the prefrontal cortex leads to impairments in appraising the
emotions of others
- 1990s, researchers discovered “mirror neurons” that react identically when an animal performs
an action or witnesses another animal performing the same action
oGiacomo Rizzolatti (neuroscientist, first to discover these mirror neurons): “The neurons
could help to explain how and why we feel empathy”
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oMust be careful in generalizing these findings to human however, because the
methodologies to date have involved attaching electrodes directly to brains and for
ethical reasons this only has been done with monkeys
- Other research seems to suggest that altruistic actions could be the result of trait like behaviour,
as opposed to being state-like, leading people to act in this way more frequently
- Fetchenhauer, Groothuis and Pradel theorize that altruists may be actually able to recognize the
trait of altruism in one another and benefit evolutionarily from selecting a similarly altruistic
- Another view of altruism as something more than just learned behaviour within the current time
of a single individual’s life, it may be an evolutionary benefit developed
Cultural Variations in Altruism
- Visser and Roelofs (2011) conducted a study in which participants of male and female genders
were asked to distribute a fixed number of tokens between themselves and a fictional other
person based on different scenarios (Dictator Game)
oPart of info given to participants was the ingroup or outgroup status of the other in
relation to them
oWomen as a group were found to be less sensitive to the “price of giving” in making
decisions about dividing the tokens, meaning that they gave altruistically more often
than men
oThis effect appeared to be heightened by possession of particular Big Five personality
factors leading to a conclusion that gender may explain only part of the equation about
this seeming tendency toward being more altruistic
- Similar results found in other studies involving Dictator Games
oFemale players more likely than male players to give up half of the endowment given to
them in the game, particularly when playing with other women
- Women also found to be more appreciative of altruistic traits when choosing a male partner for
a short term relationship
oThis trait didn’t affect male preference in choosing a partner
- Both genders appeared to value altruism in long term relationships
- Batson and colleagues posit that collectivism as an ideology may in fact be a form of altruism or
prosocial behaviour that affects an entire community
oIn prioritizing the welfare of others above one’s own welfare, helping behaviour
becomes a part of the normed social structure
oNot behaving in a way that serves the greater good is punished, while engaging in
helping behaviour is rewarded
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