Reasons for Compassion and Charity

Tackling the idea that human empathy is self-serving, Dacher Keltner, for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine, reviews a number of studies looking at why we are compassionate.

In other research by Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns, participants were given the chance to help someone else while their brain activity was recorded. Helping others triggered activity in […] portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. This is a rather remarkable finding: helping others brings the same pleasure we get from the gratification of personal desire.

The brain, then, seems wired up to respond to others’ suffering—indeed, it makes us feel good when we can alleviate that suffering. But do other parts of the body also suggest a biological basis for compassion?

That’s the biological view on compassion, but what about other views? Ryan Sager looks at altruism from an evolutionary psychology standpoint.

Studies seem to indicate that perceived altruism enhances attractiveness. [One study] for instance, finds that “cooperative behavior increases the perceived attractiveness of the cooperator.” (The same study also finds that people are more altruistic toward people who are attractive — but you probably already knew that.) Likewise, [a] paper in the British Journal of Psychology finds evidence that women have a significant preference for altruistic mates, more so than men.

via Arts and Letters Daily

3 thoughts on “Reasons for Compassion and Charity

  1. victoria

    I am curious about the psychology of empathy in situations of mass, and extremely publicized, suffering, like Haiti today. Or, perhaps, it isn’t truly empathy, but another kind of psychology. The suffering certainly existed to a different extent before the earthquake without people feeling the need to twitter and donate. I can see how giving makes one feel better, and how it makes one more attractive. But why giving and showing compassion in this public way about such an obvious target? Compassion when the problem is so great to be almost unfixable, and only when everyone else is also demonstrating compassion.

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