Helping and Altruism

An evolutionary perspective provides a relatively straightforward set of predictions about the human nature of helping and altruism (Burnstein, Crandall, & Kitayama, 1994). One group of authors proposed a set of hypotheses directly derived from Hamilton's theory of inclusive fitness. Specifical , they hypothesized that helping others is a direct function of the recipients' ability to enhance the inclusive fitness of th helpers. Helping should decrease, according to this hypothesis, as the degree of genetic overlap decreases between the helper and the recipient. Thus, you should be more likely to help your sibling, who shares 50 percent of your genes, on average, than your nieces and nephews, who share only 25 percent of their genes, on average. Helping is expected to be lower still between individuals who share only 12.5 percent of their genes, such as first cousins. No other theory in psychology generates thi precise helping gradient as a function of genetic relatedness or specifies kinship a one underlying principle for altruism.

The results of a series of studies in the United States and Japan support these predictions. In one condition, participants were asked to imagine dif ferent individuals asleep

Figure 8.2

Tendency to help kin under life-or-death versus everyday conditions. Genetic overlap predicts the tendency to help, especially under life-or-death conditions. Source: Adapted from Burnstein, E., Crandall, C., & Kitayama, S. (1994). "Some neo-Darwinian decision rules for altruism: Weighing cures for inclusive fitness as a function of the biological importance of the decision," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 67, 773-789, figure 2, p. 778. Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission.

Figure 8.2

Tendency to help kin under life-or-death versus everyday conditions. Genetic overlap predicts the tendency to help, especially under life-or-death conditions. Source: Adapted from Burnstein, E., Crandall, C., & Kitayama, S. (1994). "Some neo-Darwinian decision rules for altruism: Weighing cures for inclusive fitness as a function of the biological importance of the decision," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 67, 773-789, figure 2, p. 778. Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission.

in different rooms of a rapidly burning building. The participants were further asked to imagine that they had time to rescue only one of them. The participants were instructed to circle the tar get they were most likely to help and to cross out the tar get they were least likely to help. As shown in Figure 8.2, the tendency to help is a direct function of the degree of genetic relatedness. This is especially true in a life-or -death context.

Mere genetic relatedness, however , represents just the start of an evolutionary analysis of the altruistic component of human nature. Burnstein et al. (1994) predicted that people should help younger relatives more than older relatives, since helping older kin would have less impact, on average, on his or her reproductive success than would helping a younger person. Furthermore, individuals of higher reproductive value (ability to produce children) should be helped more than individuals of lower reproductive value.

In one study, 1-year-olds were helped more than 10-year -olds, who in turn were helped more than 45-year -olds (Burnstein et al., 1994). Least helped were 75-year -old individuals. These findings, replicated across both Japanese and American samples, provide further support for the hypothesis that life-or-death helping decreases as the kin member gets older . Interestingly, these results were strongest in the life-or -

Figure 8.3

Tendency to help as a function of the recipient's age under life-or-death versus everyday conditions. When helping is relatively trivial, people tend to help those most in need, such as the young and the elderly. Under costly forms of help, however, the young are helped more than the old. Source: Adapted from Burnstein, E., Crandall, C., & Kitayama, S. (1994). "Some neo-Darwinian decision rules for altruism: Weighing cures for inclusive fitness as a function of the biological importance of the decision, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 67, 773-789, figure 3, p. 779. Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission.

death situation but showed a reversal in a trivial helping condition. For everyday helping, such as running a small errand for someone, the 75-year -olds were helped more than the 45-year-olds (see Figure 8.3).

In yet one more interesting twist, the tendency to help younger people depended on a critical survival context—famine conditions (Burnstein et al., 1994). When the participants were asked to imagine themselves living in a sub-Saharan African country that suffered widespread famine and disease, they reported a curvilinear relationship between age and helping (see Figure 8.4). Infants in this condition were helped less than 10-year-olds, who were helped the most. But then helping began to drop, with the least helped being the 75-year -olds.

These studies suggest that a central component of human nature is helping other people, but in a highly domain-specific wa . The ways in which humans help others—the distribution of helping acts across individuals—is highly predictable from

Age of target

Age of target

10 yrs.

18 yrs. Age of target

45 yrs.

75 yrs.

10 yrs.

18 yrs. Age of target

45 yrs.

75 yrs.

Figure 8.4

Tendency to help under famine conditions. Under conditions of possible starvation, the young and the old are left to die, whereas those most able to use the help—from ages 10 to 45 years—are helped most. Source: Adapted from Burnstein, E., Crandall, C., & Kitayama, S. (1994). "Some neo-Darwinian decision rules for altruism: Weighing cures for inclusive fitness as a function of the biologica importance of the decision," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 67, 773-789, figure 6, p. 780 Copyright © 1994 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission.

an evolutionary perspective. The importance of genetic relatedness on helping others has even been documented for patterns of grandparental investment (Laham, Gonsalkorale, & von Hipple, 2005).

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