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Monday, December 28, 2009

Selfish or Altruistic

This blog is mainly in response to a question from CaptainCrunk about the Psychology of Altruism and its implications for economics. I will only attempt to detail the current opinion in Psychology about Altruism, I have no idea what it means for economics, that's for economists to decide :p:
This is adapted from some notes I had and some new stuff. References refer to books as I haven't got the time to find each individual journal article.

Throughout history we are presented with examples of astonishing feats of helping behaviour. During the Vietnam War Medals of Honour were awarded to sixty three veterans who used their own bodies to shield their comrades from grenades (Myres, 2005, p. 492). During World War Two Meip Gies shielded the family of Anne Frank from discovery, risking his life in doing so (Batson, 1991, p. 1). In everyday life also we see examples of altruism all around us, from volunteer fire departments to televised appeals for overseas aid to simply comforting a friend going through a tough time.
However there are also examples of times when people fail to help, from the countless people who step over the homeless on our streets to the thousands of crimes that go on without any bystander intervention each day. The most famous example of this is probably the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964, an event apparently witnessed by 38 people, none of whom intervened to prevent it until it was too late (Hogg, 1998, p. 485). This murder shocked many and provoked a great deal of research into altruistic and helping behaviour.
In order to discuss whether people are ultimately altruistic or selfish we must first define exactly what we mean by the term altruistic. Altruistic behaviour falls under the broader category of pro-social behaviour, which can be defined as any voluntary behaviour which is intended to be beneficial to another person (Hogg, 1998, p. 484). Altruism however is a very specific form of pro-social behaviour. Altruism is a form of helping behaviour which does not take into regard one’s own interests (Myers, 2005, p.476). Although an altruistic act is not motivated by self interest there may still be rewards for acting altruistically, but an act is still altruistic provided the motivation was not to obtain these rewards (Hogg, 1998, 484). For example donating money to charity in order to gain recognition for doing so would not be an altruistic behaviour as it is motivated by self interest. We call these acts egoistic. Edward Wilson has contested that Altruistic behaviour must also come at a cost to the altruist (Wispé, 1978, p. 11). However Psychologists such as C. Daniel Batson have rejected this assertion on the basis that it takes focus away from the question of motivation and puts it onto consequences and that it ignores the possibility of increased benefit (such as Hero status) with increased cost (Batson, 1991, p. 6).
This leads us to the question: Are any helping behaviours actually motivated by altruism or are they all egoistic to some degree? Western philosophy would be inclined to agree that all these acts are ultimately selfish (Post, 2002, p. 89) and there is significant psychological evidence to suggest that a great amount of what we commonly refer to as altruistic behaviour is in fact egoistically motivated. One such explanation is that of mood enhancement or maintenance. Here it is proposed that a reason for helping can be a person’s desire to enhance their mood or maintain a good mood. Studies of the behaviour of guilt ridden people offer an example of this. In an experiment conducted by McMillen and Austin, students at Mississippi State University, participants were induced to lie to the experimenter about their experience with a test they were about to take. Participants were then asked to help with grading questionnaires and it was found that those who had lied volunteered an average of sixty three minutes of their time, over an hour longer than those who did not lie (Myers, 2005, p. 480). In doing this they redeemed their self image. Further evidence is provided by the fact that in an experiment conducted by Baumann, Cialdini and Manucia in which participants who believed that their negative mood had been fixed using drugs and could not be improved for thirty minutes did not help more than students who had not had a negative mood induced (Tesser, 1995, p. 349).
Social norms also play a role in influencing helping behaviour. These explanations are also egoistic rather than altruistic. The first social norm is the “reciprocity norm”. This is the idea that if someone helps us we should in turn help them, and vice versa. Alvin Gouldner believed this to be a universal norm, which is supported by its presence in many different cultures (Tesser, 1995, p. 350). We see evidence of this norm in an experiment conducted by Whatley in which he found that more university students made a pledge to a charity that had given them candy (Myers, 2005, p. 484). It has also been shown in experiments by Wilke and Lanzetta that people reciprocate more depending on how much help they feel they have received (Tesser, 1995, p. 350).
However the reciprocity norm does not explain altruism towards those who cannot reciprocate: children or the severely impoverished for example. The “social-responsibility norm” is used to explain this. This is the belief that people should always help those who need help regardless of their ability to reciprocate. This norm however does appear to be conditional based on how deserving we feel the person in need of help to be. We are less likely to help for example if we perceive the problem to be self inflicted (Myers, 2005, p. 485). It is felt by some psychologists, such as Berkowitz, that the effect of the social responsibility norm is “greatly exaggerated” (Tesser, 1995, p. 351). B.F. Skinner also points out that we often fail to help those who cannot reciprocate, including the elderly, the disabled and those with mental illnesses, who are even mistreated (Wispé, 1978, p. 250).
Another explanation of altruistic behaviour is that it provides an evolutionary benefit. This sociobiological explanation also supports the idea that humans are ultimately selfish. The idea that it is possible for altruism to be naturally selected for in evolution is put forward by sociobiologists such as Richard Dawkins, who point out that although our genes are selfish in their desire to be passed on that does not mean that they will always cause us to behave selfishly. Dawkins believes that there are a number of limited situations in which acting altruistically may increase the likelihood of our genes being passed on (Dawkins, 1989, p. 10). The first aspect of this is known as Kin Selection. This is the idea that by helping family one can increase the likelihood of one’s own genes being passed on because of shared genes. For example because on average brother’s share half their genes an act that does over twice as much good to a brother as it does harm to the helper will increase the likelihood of the helper’s genes being passed on. This relationship can be expressed mathematically in the form K > 1/R where K is the fitness gained by the recipient of the help and R is that given up by the helper (Boorman, 1980, p. 14). This idea is supported in experiments with twins in which it has been shown that identical twins are 50% more likely to co-operate for mutual gain when playing for money (Myers, 2005, p. 487). From a sociobiological perspective the reciprocity norm provides a basis for helping behaviour between unrelated people.
Can we take from this then that altruistic behaviour is inbuilt into humans? Not necessarily. Just because it can be shown mathematically that selection for an altruism gene is possible does not mean that such a gene exists, as pointed out by Batson (Tesser, 1995, p. 345). Dawkins also points out that even if a gene does exist that does not mean that it would have a greater effect on our behaviour than social learning, it may just make it easier to learn altruistic behaviour (Dawkins, 1989, p. 10).
All of the examples of altruism so far discussed have been egoistically motivated, i.e. inherently selfish. However a case can be made for genuine altruism. This altruism is empathy based and referred to as the empathy-altruism hypothesis. The ability to empathise seems to be inbuilt an is exhibited before children will act prosocially, for example children under the age of 20 months will align themselves to another’s distress and exhibit signs of this such as crying (Smith, 2007, p. 247). Batson is one of the leading proponents of the empathy-altruism hypothesis and has conducted numerous experiments concerning it. First, in order to separate it from egoistic helping they conducted an experiment where a woman was supposedly being electrocuted. The observer was then offered the opportunity to switch places with her. Those who had been led to believe that the subject was a kindred spirit (thereby having their altruism aroused) were almost all willing to exchange places (Myres, 2005, p. 491). Cialdini and others have pointed out that this may be a simple mood-boosting exercise. However the fact that even when participants believe their mood has been set by mood fixing drugs they continue to help supports the idea of altruistically motivated helping (Myres, 2005, p. 492).
Cialdini has pointed out that no experiment rules out all egoistic explanations, but this can be accused explanation-by naming and has thus fallen into disrepute (Myers, 2005, 479). Batson claims that in more than 25 experiments results have consistently shown patterns predicted by the empathy-altruism hypothesis and failed to support any egoistic alternatives (Post, 2002, p. 98). It would seem that empathy can indeed provoke genuine altruism in people, where any benefit is simply a by-product of an unselfish desire to act in someone else’s benefit.
So to conclude I would like to say that while it seems apparent that much of what we call altruism is actually cleverly disguised egoism. Whether the motive be to fix one’s mood, gain external rewards, avoid punishment, propagate our genes or gain social currency it seems that indeed much of what we consider selfless helping is in fact motivated by self interest. However, while this is true that does not mean that human’s are inherently selfish. Batson makes a compelling case for the existence of a genuine form of altruism, and evidence, while not being entirely conclusive, would seem to be on his side. It could be said therefore that while humans are greatly motivated by egoistic concerns we do also appear to have the capacity to act selflessly under certain circumstances, particularly when our empathy is aroused.

Batson, C.D. (1991). The Altruism Question, Toward a Social-Psychological Answer. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Boorman, S.A. (1980). The Genetics of Altruism. London: Academic Press
Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hogg, M.A., & Vaughan, G.M. (1998). Social Psychology. London: Prentice Hall Europe.
Myers, D.G. (2005). Social Psychology. London: McGraw-Hill.
Post, S.G., Underwood, L.G., Schloss, J.P., & Hurlbut, W.B. (2002). Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, P.K., Cowie, H., Blades, M. (2007). Understanding Children’s Development. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Tesser, A. (1995). Advanced Social Psychology. London: McGraw-Hill.
Wispé, L. (Ed.). (1978). Altruism, Sympathy, and Helping. London: Academic Press.

2:10 pm - 18 comments - 19 Kudos
Monday, November 16, 2009

Bein' Gay ain't nutin' but a choice.

The main purpose of this is to allow me to copy and paste it into the forums without much hassle, but I figured I might aswell make a blog out of it. :D

I'm going to say this once, but I'm going to say it in really big letters to make up for it.


Many people assume that human sexuality is a choice. It is not. I cannot stress how important it is for people to understand that. People discover their sexual orientations; they do not choose them. Sexual preference seems to develop very early, and a child's first indication of the direction of their sexual preference usually does not change as he/she matures. I'm going to outline some of the factors here, and support what I say by links to research papers by well respected psychologists, geneticists, endocrinologists and biologists published in well respected peer reviewed journals. I stress that the papers I post here only represent a fraction of the total amount of evidence confirming what I am saying, but I do have a time limit and searching for journals takes quite a long time even when you have the name of the article.

Firstly, genetics certainly plays a role, but it is not the whole story.
Let’s start with genetics anyway though.
I'm going to show two comparable and air tight twin studies showing the genetic basis in both males and females by a group of leading researchers in the field. There are more but I could post research papers all day and that would be boring.
Bailey and Pillard studied a group of male homosexuals who had twin brothers, and they found that 52% of the monozygotic twin brothers and 22% of the dizygotic twin brothers were homosexual.
Bailey JM, Pillard RC (1991). "A genetic study of male sexual orientation". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 48 (12): 1089–96
Later they found the same story with females. The concordance rates for homosexuality were 48% for monozygotic twins and 16% for dizygotic twins.
Bailey JM, Pillard RC, Neale MC, Agyei Y. (1993 ). Heritable factors influence sexual orientation in women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 217–223.

Clearly this does not account for everything as the research says. So the next thing we have to move on to is Early Hormones (which are also not a choice).
A consistent pattern of results has been observed in the research on sexuality and exposure to perinatal hormones (Ellis & Ames, 1987) , which has (for obvious reasons) focused on non-human animals.
In rats, hamsters, ferrets, pigs, zebra finches, and doggie woggies, perinatal castration of males and testosterone treatment of females have been shown to induce same-sex preferences. (Adkins-Regan, 1988; Baum et al., 1990; Hrabovzky & Hudson, 2002)
It would of course be a mistake to ignore the profound cognitive and emotional components in human sexuality which have no counterpart in laboratory animals. However it would also be a mistake to assume that an incredibly consistent pattern that runs through so many mammalian species has no relevance to humans. (Swaab, 2004)
As for human research, there have been quasi-experimental studies conducted. (Ehrhardt, 1985)
We also have to look at the fraternal birth order effect, the finding that the probability of a man's being homosexual increases as a function of the number of older brothers that he has (Blanchard, 2004; Blanchard & Lippa, 2007) . A recent study of blended families (families in which biologically related siblings were raised with adopted or step-siblings) found that the effect is related to the number of boys previously born to the mother, not the number of boys one is reared with (Bogaert, 2007).
The effect is quite large: the probability of a male's being homosexual increases by 1/3 for every older brother that he has (Puts, Jordan, & Breedlove, 2006), and an estimated 15% of homosexual men can attribute their homosexuality to this effect (Cantor et al., 2002) . It is hypothesised that some mothers become progressively more immune to some masculinising hormone in male foetuses, and the mother's immune system might deactivate the masculinising hormone in younger brothers. This is known as the maternal immune hypothesis.

Thanks for reading.
1:39 pm - 45 comments - 90 Kudos
Friday, November 14, 2008

Paddy thinks about: The importance of the trade un

Anyway, the importance of the trade union movement is a topic which is particularly close to my heart. In my opinion nothing could possibly be more important than worker's properly organising. Without that we have absolutely nothing. It takes precedence over everything as far as I am concerned, because if we do it correctly everything else will flow from it, if we fail then everything else is worth nothing in the long term. Organising workers takes precedence over gay rights, drugs, animal rights, abortion, the health service, everything.

"But Paddy that's crazy, unions are evil, my radio told me so"

Shut up and turn off Newstalk and Joe Duffy.

Every single right that workers have today is the product of the blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights of generations of workers. Workers who organised, and by organising I don’t mean simply getting a union card, I mean activism. They saw when things were wrong, when something that was their right was being denied to them, when their brothers were being exploited. They saw these things and they didn’t sit back and say "well that's capitalism", they said "I will not stand for this". They stood up and they fought and that is the reason that we now have workers rights. That is the reason that your employer can't push you around.

At the end of the day it is you that are the union, and it is you that must stand up for your rights and the rights of your comrades.

"But Paddy that's crazy, the unions didn’t grant me any of my rights, that was the government"

No it wasn't. Ok, well technically it was, but only in so far as they moved the pen on the paper. And they only did that because it was made impossible for them to ignore by the union movement.

The following rights, which people now take for granted, were won by the union movement.

39 Hour working week


Minimum wage

Unfair dismissals laws

Equality of employment laws

Health and Safety

Terms and conditions of employment

Pension scheme

Overtime pay

Yearly pay rises

Thanks to the union movement your employer must obey these rights, they are enshrined in law.

"So why would I join a union then?"

Today, in this country and internationally, there is a movement to destroy the Unions. There are a group of people who want nothing more than to destroy the movement. Why? One of the reasons is because all these rights were put in place and are maintained by the trade union movement. If that movement disappears then so will those rights as the employers unions will steadily erode them. The government may have signed the laws onto the statute books, but they have no effective method of enforcing them. The only way that these rights can be upheld is if the union movement does it. If you are in a union you have recourse if your rights are violated, if not then you have nothing.

Plus governments are fickle, and legislation can be removed. Your employer is in a union (ISMEY, or IBEC etc), why do you suppose that is? It's (in part, I don’t think all employers are evil or anything) to erode the rights that you have. If the trade union movement disappears they will be successful in this aim, and it will not take long before we are back to the state we were in before these rights were enacted (The industrial revolution)

"Ok grand, but what will they do for me today"

Ok, if you're too much of a selfish dickbag to join a union in thanks for all they've done in the past and the fact that they keep those things alive then allow me to give you a more pressing reason to join.

Being in a union means that you can't be bullied by your employer. If you're not in a union and your employer doesn't pay you or dismisses you unfairly then you have no recourse. Sure, you can hire a lawyer but so can he, and he has the advantage of having money. If you're in a union you will have an official who will act as your lawyer, and will be far better at employment legislation than any lawyer. Trade union officials deal with employment law every single day; they know it like the backs of their hands. They don’t lose. I know officials who have come up against expensive legal TEAMS and still won. Check the records for yourself. You won’t get a lawyer for a few Euros a week. No way. And that's only one of the benefits, unions are not limited to the courts, they recognise that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Employers are just much less likely to push you around if you’re in a union. They are effective. Prevention is better than cure, but should you need a cure one will be there. You are not alone.

"I'm an employer; I don't want my people in a union"

Why not? What is the disadvantage to you? If you are a good employer and you are doing what the law says you should be doing and you are not bullying your employees then you won't have a problem will you?

Do you want to do things quickly or do you want to them correctly? Unions only encourage the latter.


So I implore anyone who bothers to read this. If you have a job please consider joining your union, and don’t just join and then sit back. Get active; get involved, you never know where it will lead you. It can't do you harm. If you're not working yet then make sure you join when you eventually are.


Thanks for reading.
5:34 pm - 55 comments - 12 Kudos