Cultural and religious beliefs have been known to greatly influence the development of virtues embraced by different societies in the world. Social psychologists and philosophers have tried to offer explanations of some behaviors. Of much interest among the researchers is the need to understand the motivations that drive people help others.
Contrasting opinions of whether there is true altruism among people have been advanced. Experiments have been designed to investigate and provide empirical explanations of the various perspectives. The research paper provides a summary of what some social psychologists believe concerning the existence of true altruism.
The various arguments are evaluated from a personal point of view and the side with which I agree is also presented. It is concluded that extensive research needs to be conducted to establish whether people actually help others for altruistic reasons.
Issue Analysis: Pro-social Behavior
Different virtues are taught and encouraged in almost all cultures and religions in the world. Some of these virtues may be peculiar to some cultures while some may have some similarity. In most cases some of the virtues influence the relationships that exist among people in a given society, for instance the treatment of the less fortunate in the society (Palmer, 2009).
Psychologists, sociologists and philosophers have conducted various studies to find out and explain the motivation behind the exercise of some of the virtues by different people. Research has found that there are varied opinions and beliefs concerning the motivations which push an individual to behave the way he or she does towards other persons (Davis, 2008).
Altruism as a concept, for example, has elicited varied perspectives as far as its existence and exercise in real life is concerned.
In its general sense, altruism refers to the selfless concern for the welfare of other people; the unconditional giving to others, for instance the giving of alms to the poor. This research paper provides a summary of what some people believe concerning the existence of true altruism. The various arguments are evaluated from a personal point of view and the side with which I agree is also presented.
A number of individuals in different fields of specialization have made attempts to explore the existence of true altruism in ordinary life. Researchers in the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, and religion have come up their explanations concerning this issue. Some of them have concluded that true altruism does exist while others have refuted the claim that true altruism exist.
According to a study by Daniel Batson and his colleagues, true altruism exists in some instances when people help others (Fiske, 2010). From their social psychologist’s perspective, they were convinced that some individuals help others for purely altruistic reasons.
From the study findings, Batson argues that empathy is the major motivator of altruistic tendencies among some people. He provides experimental procedures and outcomes to put his point across. On the other hand, another group of social psychologists led by Robert Cialdini are strongly opposed to the belief that empathy is the major motivator for altruistic behavior.
They argue that no single individual helps another out of genuine concern for the person but for their own egoistic satisfaction (Fiske, 2010). They perceive helping as purely motivated by the need to feel better and not for the good of the one being assisted (Davis, 2008). The approach they used to study helping behavior is referred to as Negative State Relief Model.
The major questions at the center of these two opposing views as far as helping behavior is concerned are crucial to the understanding of altruism.
Researchers seek to find out whether people can actually behave selflessly and whether there are other factors of motivation for helping behavior other than selfish concern for oneself. Those who argue that there is no true altruism among people have some convincing explanations of helping behavior (Palmer, 2009).
When people help, in their opinion, it is not because they are concerned about the welfare of others but for their own satisfaction (Davis, 2008). When a person helps another, there is more likelihood that the person will feel good for having helped another. This shows that the helping behavior was not genuine but was motivated by other factors other than the concern for the person in need.
Even if the act of helping benefits the receiver, it will not be considered truly altruistic since that was not the motivation behind the behavior. These self-centered tendencies/motives are highly cited by those refuting the existence of true altruism.
However, those proposing that true altruism exists have advanced their explanations of how they study behavior to investigate the major motivator of helping behavior. These social psychologists argue that people are able to feel for others and hence helping them.
The ability to place oneself in the place of the person in need, according to their study findings, motivates an individual to exhibit true altruistic behavior (Fiske, 2010). Despite numerous experiments used by Batson and other social psychologists to explain the existence of true altruism, there is continued debate about this concept to this day.
As much as there are experimental explanations of the existence of altruism, I am not convinced that there is true altruism among human beings. This is because empathy cannot be the only motivator of any given behavior, and particularly helping. I believe there are a number of factors that combine to motivate an individual into behaving in a given manner.
In this case, both self-centered motives and some degree of concern for others combine to force a person into helping. This is why I agree with those opposing the existence of helping behavior for purely altruistic reasons. Advanced research approaches should be employed if the opponents of true altruism are to be convinced.
Davis, M. H. (2008). Understanding altruism: a social psychological approach (2nd ed).
Fiske, S. T. (2010). Social beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology (2nd ed).
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
Palmer, H. G. (2009). Altruism: its nature and varieties. BiblioBazaar, LLC