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Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007

MessageSujet: human nature   Sam 6 Avr - 3:05

Psychology

Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?

Did selfishness — or sharing — drive human evolution? Evolutionary theorists have traditionally focused on competition and the ruthlessness of natural selection, but often they have failed to consider a critical fact: that humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and social reciprocity of a group.

Last week on Slate, evolutionary anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson explored the question against the backdrop of two cultural events in 1957 — the consequences of the rogue, selfish activities of a pygmy hunter in a Congo forest, who used the group’s collective hunting efforts to benefit only himself, and in New York City, the publication of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, whose protagonist champions the author’s notion that human nature is fundamentally selfish and that each man “exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.” Atlas Shrugged counts many politicians as admirers, perhaps most notably Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, who cites the book as one of his main inspirations for entering politics and is known to give Rand’s books frequently to his interns.

(MORE: ‘Paradise Built in Hell:’ How Disaster Brings Out the Best in People)

So, does Rand’s theory comport with current evolutionary theory? The data is not exactly kind to her position. For example, Johnson describes an anthropologist’s account of the pygmy tribesman, Cephu, in the Congo who lived by the Randian ideal that selfishness is the highest morality. Cephu was part of the Mbuti tribe for whom “hunts were collective efforts in which each hunter’s success belonged to everybody else,” Johnson writes, detailing how the tribe “employed long nets of twined liana bark to catch their prey, sometimes stretching the nets for 300 feet. Once the nets were hung, women and children began shouting, yelling, and beating the ground to frighten animals toward the trap.”

It was a group effort, for most:

But one man, a rugged individualist named Cephu, had other ideas. When no one was looking, Cephu slipped away to set up his own net in front of the others.
Soon caught in this blatant attempt to steal meat, Cephu was brought in front of the whole tribe:

At an impromptu trial, Cephu defended himself with arguments for individual initiative and personal responsibility. “He felt he deserved a better place in the line of nets,” [the anthropologist Colin] Turnbull wrote. “After all, was he not an important man, a chief, in fact, of his own band?” But if that were the case, replied a respected member of the camp, Cephu should leave and never return. The Mbuti have no chiefs, they are a society of equals in which redistribution governs everyone’s livelihood. The rest of the camp sat in silent agreement.
Faced with banishment, a punishment nearly equivalent to a death sentence, Cephu relented.
He apologized, handed over his meat to the tribe and then, essentially, was sent to bed without dinner. As Johnson explains, selfishness is considered far from a virtue in such tribal groups, which still live in ways similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Indeed, every such group ever studied has been found to idealize altruism and punish selfishness, in everything from their mythologies to their mating practices.

(MORE: How Economic Inequality Is (Literally) Making Us Sick)

Although Rand accepted that early human life was a collective effort, she failed to realize how this shaped our brains. In most societies, for example, a man like Cephu would be seen as the opposite of a good catch for a woman wanting a partner. A good mate — and one whose genes were likely selected for and passed on in our earliest evolutionary history — would have been a cooperative hunter, one who didn’t put his own goals ahead of those of the tribe. He would have been altruistic in battle too, particularly when warring with other groups. A selfish soldier, after all, is known as a coward, not a hero.

The evidence for altruism as a critical part of human nature isn’t limited to anthropology. Studies of 18-month-old toddlers show that they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do so: if the adult is reaching for something, the toddler will try to hand it to them, or if they see an adult drop something accidentally, they will pick it up.

However, if the same adult forcefully throws something to the ground, toddlers won’t try to retrieve it: they understand that the action was deliberate and that the object is unwanted. These very young children will even assist (or refrain from helping) with a book-stacking task depending on what they perceive to be the adult’s intention. If the adult clumsily knocks the last book off the top of the stack, the toddler will try to put it back; if the adult deliberately takes the last book off, however, toddlers won’t intervene. Even before kids are taught to chip in — perhaps especially before they are told it’s an obligation — children are less selfish than often presumed.

Another study found that 3- to 5-year-olds tend to give a greater share of a reward (stickers, in this case) to a partner who has done more work on a task — again, without being asked — even if it means they get to keep less for themselves. And those cries of “That’s not fair!” that plague sibling relationships: they’re not only selfish; they reflect children’s apparently innate desire for equity.

(MORE: The Upside of Gossip: Social and Psychological Benefits)

Fundamental tendencies toward altruism aren’t only seen in children, either. Worldwide, the aftermath of natural disasters are typically characterized by heroism and a sharing of resources — within the affected community and in others farther way — not selfish panics. During the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, there were no accounts of people being trampled rushing out of the World Trade Center towers; rather, those who needed assistance descending were cared for, and calm mainly prevailed. The same occurred after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011. The cases in which people stampede or look out only for themselves tend to be rare and involve very specific circumstances that mitigate against helpfulness.

Moreover, our stress systems themselves seem to be designed to connect us to others. They calm down when we are feeling close to people we care about — whether related to us or not — and spike during isolation and loneliness. Even short periods of solitary confinement can derange the mind and damage the body because of the stress they create. And having no social support can be as destructive to health as cigarette smoking.

Of course, none of this is to say that humans are never selfish or that we don’t have a grasping, greedy part of our nature. But to claim, as Rand does, that “altruistic morality” is a “disease” is to misrepresent reality.

(Share the love and read the rest of Johnson’s fascinating feature here.)

MORE: An Evolutionary Explanation for Altruism: Girls Find It Sexy

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

Maia Szalavitz @maiasz


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/08/is-human-nature-fundamentally-selfish-or-altruistic/#ixzz2PfkDHuNw
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MessageSujet: Re: human nature   Sam 6 Avr - 11:03

Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good, After All
Recent studies find our first impulses are selfless

By Adrian F. Ward









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Helping comes easy.
Image: iStock / Nadya Lukic
When it really comes down to it—when the chips are down and the lights are off—are we naturally good? That is, are we predisposed to act cooperatively, to help others even when it costs us? Or are we, in our hearts, selfish creatures?

This fundamental question about human nature has long provided fodder for discussion. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin proclaimed that all people were born broken and selfish, saved only through the power of divine intervention. Hobbes, too, argued that humans were savagely self-centered; however, he held that salvation came not through the divine, but through the social contract of civil law. On the other hand, philosophers such as Rousseau argued that people were born good, instinctively concerned with the welfare of others. More recently, these questions about human nature—selfishness and cooperation, defection and collaboration—have been brought to the public eye by game shows such as Survivor and the UK’s Golden Balls, which test the balance between selfishness and cooperation by pitting the strength of interpersonal bonds against the desire for large sums of money.

But even the most compelling televised collisions between selfishness and cooperation provide nothing but anecdotal evidence. And even the most eloquent philosophical arguments mean noting without empirical data.

A new set of studies provides compelling data allowing us to analyze human nature not through a philosopher’s kaleidoscope or a TV producer’s camera, but through the clear lens of science. These studies were carried out by a diverse group of researchers from Harvard and Yale—a developmental psychologist with a background in evolutionary game theory, a moral philosopher-turned-psychologist, and a biologist-cum-mathematician—interested in the same essential question: whether our automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively.

This focus on first instincts stems from the dual process framework of decision-making, which explains decisions (and behavior) in terms of two mechanisms: intuition and reflection. Intuition is often automatic and effortless, leading to actions that occur without insight into the reasons behind them. Reflection, on the other hand, is all about conscious thought—identifying possible behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits of likely outcomes, and rationally deciding on a course of action. With this dual process framework in mind, we can boil the complexities of basic human nature down to a simple question: which behavior—selfishness or cooperation—is intuitive, and which is the product of rational reflection? In other words, do we cooperate when we overcome our intuitive selfishness with rational self-control, or do we act selfishly when we override our intuitive cooperative impulses with rational self-interest?

To answer this question, the researchers first took advantage of a reliable difference between intuition and reflection: intuitive processes operate quickly, whereas reflective processes operate relatively slowly. Whichever behavioral tendency—selfishness or cooperation—predominates when people act quickly is likely to be the intuitive response; it is the response most likely to be aligned with basic human nature.
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Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007

MessageSujet: Re: human nature   Sam 6 Avr - 11:03

Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good, After All
Recent studies find our first impulses are selfless

The experimenters first examined potential links between processing speed, selfishness, and cooperation by using 2 experimental paradigms (the “prisoner’s dilemma” and a “public goods game”), 5 studies, and a tot al of 834 participants gathered from both undergraduate campuses and a nationwide sample. Each paradigm consisted of group-based financial decision-making tasks and required participants to choose between acting selfishly—opting to maximize individual benefits at the cost of the group—or cooperatively—opting to maximize group benefits at the cost of the individual. The results were striking: in every single study, faster—that is, more intuitive—decisions were associated with higher levels of cooperation, whereas slower—that is, more reflective—decisions were associated with higher levels of selfishness. These results suggest that our first impulse is to cooperate—that Augustine and Hobbes were wrong, and that we are fundamentally “good” creatures after all.

The researchers followed up these correlational studies with a set of experiments in which they directly manipulated both this apparent influence on the tendency to cooperate—processing speed—and the cognitive mechanism thought to be associated with this influence—intuitive, as opposed to reflective, decision-making. In the first of these studies, researchers gathered 891 participants (211 undergraduates and 680 participants from a nationwide sample) and had them play a public goods game with one key twist: these participants were forced to make their decisions either quickly (within 10 seconds) or slowly (after at least 10 seconds had passed). In the second, researchers had 343 participants from a nationwide sample play a public goods game after they had been primed to use either intuitive or reflective reasoning. Both studies showed the same pattern—whether people were forced to use intuition (by acting under time constraints) or simply encouraged to do so (through priming), they gave significantly more money to the common good than did participants who relied on reflection to make their choices. This again suggests that our intuitive impulse is to cooperate with others.

Taken together, these studies—7 total experiments, using a whopping 2,068 participants—suggest that we are not intuitively selfish creatures. But does this mean that we our naturally cooperative? Or could it be that cooperation is our first instinct simply because it is rewarded? After all, we live in a world where it pays to play well with others: cooperating helps us make friends, gain social capital, and find social success in a wide range of domains. As one way of addressing this possibility, the experimenters carried out yet another study. In this study, they asked 341 participants from a nationwide sample about their daily interactions—specifically, whether or not these interactions were mainly cooperative; they found that the relationship between processing speed (that is, intuition) and cooperation only existed for those who reported having primarily cooperative interactions in daily life. This suggests that cooperation is the intuitive response only for those who routinely engage in interactions where this behavior is rewarded—that human “goodness” may result from the acquisition of a regularly rewarded trait.

Throughout the ages, people have wondered about the basic state of human nature—whether we are good or bad, cooperative or selfish. This question—one that is central to who we are—has been tackled by theologians and philosophers, presented to the public eye by television programs, and dominated the sleepless nights of both guilt-stricken villains and bewildered victims; now, it has also been addressed by scientific research. Although no single set of studies can provide a definitive answer—no matter how many experiments were conducted or participants were involved—this research suggests that our intuitive responses, or first instincts, tend to lead to cooperation rather than selfishness.


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Date d'inscription : 17/05/2007

MessageSujet: Re: human nature   Sam 6 Avr - 11:04

Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good, After All
Recent studies find our first impulses are selfless

By Adrian F. Ward









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Although this evidence does not definitely solve the puzzle of human nature, it does give us evidence we may use to solve this puzzle for ourselves—and our solutions will likely vary according to how we define “human nature.” If human nature is something we must be born with, then we may be neither good nor bad, cooperative nor selfish. But if human nature is simply the way we tend to act based on our intuitive and automatic impulses, then it seems that we are an overwhelmingly cooperative species, willing to give for the good of the group even when it comes at our own personal expense.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Adrian F. Ward is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His doctoral research is focused on the relationships between technology, cognition, social relationships, and self-esteem, and he also studies moral decision-making and the self.
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