Human Motivation the Influential Drive Behind Human Altruism

Last Updated: 27 Jan 2021
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Human motivation the influential drive behind human altruism At the forefront of social psychology the issue of what motivates one to act in a prosocial manner has arisen with a vast array of theory and response. The heart of the topic lies in the ambiguity as to whether one acts altruistically as a result of an innate response of empathy and compassion, or merely due to self interest. By definition altruism refers to, “behaviour that helps people with no apparent gain or with potential cost to one’s self”, (Western 2006).

Yet, this concept in itself is not unproblematic in that undoubtedly displays of altruism exist, but may not ultimately be driven by selflessness. Motivation is indisputably the integral drive behind human behaviour, and is the most crucial factor influencing human altruism. Reciprocal altruism; simply the idea that we offer assistance and expect it returned, is undeniably practiced with the motivation of one’s personal wellbeing in mind.

Similarly, the concept of motivation also provides a logical understanding of kin selection whereby we are inclined to help our genetic related, as aiding one’s family will ultimate better one’s self. A cost rewards analysis, as well as social exclusion can also be depicted as highly motivated by a person’s needs and survival; and therefore can once more be deemed selfish. Thus, by grasping a concrete understanding of one’s ultimate purpose in a given situation, the question as whether we are driven by a natural selfless capacity or with intention of maximizing personal gain can be ascertained.

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Unquestionably, acts of genuine and authentic altruism exist, however in situations that help is required, consciously or subconsciously the helper is more likely to personally benefit from their action, than not. A motive refers to the goal or object of a person’s action. Human nature is inherently selfish, therefore when deciding whether to engage in a prosocial act; an individual’s primary concern is oneself. This is not always conscious to the individual, yet whether it is a simple question of the motives for an occupation, or concern for the environment; it is linked to maximizing personally or for society as a whole.

Krous (2005), conducted research in order to determine what would motivate people in help related fields such as psychology, education and nursing to work with underserved populations; which consist of groups such as ethnic minorities, the mentally ill, the homeless and elderly. The research was conducted using 135 students from Midwestern University majoring in help related fields. Whilst factors such as work autonomy, troubled past experiences or a parent in a helping profession did inspire some to work with such groups, economic reward and prosperity as well as diverse training proved to be vital to a vast majority.

Another way in which we can relate people’s motivations with the concern for themselves is through their view on the environment. This was put to the test through a study by Berenguer (2007) whereby participants were presented with illustrations of eight large trees being cut down and a dead bird on the beach covered in oil. The findings concluded that participants conveyed empathy and were dismayed by the devastating state of the environment. One needs to pose the question; what motivates one to act altruistically toward the environment?

The simple fact that they are ultimately a part of the environment that they endeavor to save, and thus prevent the personal and societal hardship that would follow its total destruction. The concept that an individual’s sense of belonging in a group impacts upon their willingness to behave in a socially caring manner, once more brings the notion of selfishness to the fore. People are encouraged by their culture and society to take part in prosocial behavior. While engaging in a prosocial act often entails risk and cost to oneself, in the big picture, belonging to a group provides vast benefits.

The concept that one’s belongingness will ultimately impact upon a person’s willingness to engage in a prosocial act is questioned in a number of research experiments conducted by Twenge (2007). Experiment One - donating money; had 34 participants take a personality test. Responders were randomly allocated a personality summary of either ‘future alone’, ‘future belonging’, or ‘misfortune control condition. ’ Each participant received $2 for taking part and were informed that there was a collection for the Student Emergency fund.

The results had only 37% of the ‘future alone’ donate to the fund contrasting with 100% of the participants in the other groups. Thus, social exclusion lead to a significant decrease in helping behaviour. This suggests that one’s emotional state will pertain to their ability to offer empathetic understanding and an inclination to help others, as Twenge states, “Social exclusion apparently renders the prosocial behaviour tool temporarily useless. ” Therefore, when an individual is emotionally vulnerable and lacking self-esteem they lose their ability to care for the wellbeing of others.

Once more the proving human beings as self-interested creatures who are only willing to help when they feel they have been helped or that their society accepts them. Evolutionary theories pertaining to altruism have played a nodal role in understanding human motivations, and moreover through the kin selection theory and the concept of reciprocal altruism emphases once again that we are compelled by rational self-interest, to always put ourselves first. Kin selection focuses on actions of people who are genetically related as stated by Neyer (2003), “blood is thicker than water, implying that kin are generally favored over non-kin. The motive behind a parent, whether human or animal in protecting their off springs is in their attempt to protect and ensure the next generation. The protection of our genetic code is explored by Maynard Smith (1964), which explains that we are more than likely to help direct family over our more distant family and our more distant family over non-kin. This idea is heightened in a study conducted by Burnstein (1994) which found that life or death helping was significantly more likely to be offered with close genetic relatedness.

The notion of looking after one’s genetic coding for future generations, through the idea of kin selection once more exemplifies the way in which we are hard-wired to act in a socially caring manner to maximize person gain. “Reciprocal Altruism”, refers to the way in which humans help another person, thus building a relationship where help is expected to be returned at a later date. It is an evolutionary process that clarifies prosocial acts that occur among the non-related. A basic example of such an exchange is acknowledged by Fitness (2007), whereby two fishermen in a village agree to share what they catch for the day with one another.

Therefore if one fisherman does not catch any fish they are reassured that they will not go hungry. Such an example supports the theory that engaging in reciprocal altruism increases the chances of survival over individuals who act selfishly, as long as both parties involved reciprocate. Our willingness to help is determined by the likelihood that the help will be returned, therefore in a situation where a stranger requires help it is unlikely that an act will be reciprocated and therefore we feel less inclined to help.

In order for the survival of reciprocal altruism, Dovidio (2006) explains that there must be a willingness to chastise those who do cheat and find ways of gratifying individuals that voluntarily refrain from cheating. Reciprocal altruism can be considered a two way street, a relationship in which both parties will profit; and therefore is a response visibly motivated to maximize personal gain. The cost and benefits of engaging in a prosocial act ultimately determines ones willingness to involve themselves, hence supporting the concept that we are hard-wire for personal gain.

From this view, humans are rational and chiefly concerned with their own self-interest and agenda. Dovidio (2006) explains the notion of a cost reward analysis, whereby in a potential helping situation the individual weighs the possible costs and benefits in order to reach the most desired outcome. An important aspect of grasping the parameters of prosocial behavior consists of learning when people will help. Dovidio (2006) references the assault of Kitty Genovese, whereby arriving home late from work she was brutally attacked outside her apartment building.

This horrific event took place over 45 minutes whereby the attacker returned three times, finally stabbing her to death; with a shocking 38 onlookers that did nothing to help. This incident confirms the view that we are predominantly concerned with our own survival and self-interest as the potential helpers perceived the dangers to dominate over the benefits. Contrastingly, Dovidio (2006) cites the case of Reginald Denny, who was brutally beaten during the civil disturbance in Los Angeles in 1992.

Four African Americans were watching nearby on live television and rushed to the scene fending off his attackers and transporting him to hospital, consequently saving his life. Whilst the four helpers were deemed heroes and rewarded with internal benefits of self satisfaction and fulfillment of one’s duty, it challenges the idea that we are hard-wired for personal gain as this act is undeniably a genuine expression of altruism. continuum There is a vast array of motivators that explain why humans engage in altruistic behaviour, a large majority pertaining to the desire to maximize personal gain.

Such motivations are reinforced by the evolutionary theories on kin selection and reciprocal altruism; as well as one’s emotional state and the concept of a cost and reward analysis. This is not to say expressions of genuine altruism do not exist, as we have clearly established they do; they are simply few and far between. It is evident that humans have the capacity both to be incredibly selfish and heroically altruistic it would seem that tragically selfishness is hard-wired into us where we are motivated with one leading concern, ourselves. References * John F.

Dovidio, Jane Allyn Piliavin, David A. Schroeder, Louis A. Penner. (2006) Social Psychology of Prosocial Behaviour. [Book] Chapter 3 – The Context: When will people help? Chapter 4 – Why do people help? * Krous, Tangala M. D. ; Nauta, Margaret M. (2005) Values, Motivations, and Learning Experiences of Future Professionals: Who Wants to Serve Underserved Populations? [Education and Training in Professional Psychology. ] Volume 36(6), pg 688-694 * Twenge, Jean (M). ; Baumeister, Roy (F); DeWall,(C). Nathan; Ciarocco, Natalie (J); Bartels, (J). Michael. (2007).

Journal or Personality and Social Psychology. Social exclusion decrease Prosocial behaviour. Volume 92 (1) p56-66 * Berenguer, J. (2007). The Effect of Empathy in Proenvironmental Attitudes. Environment and Behaviour, 39; 269 * Westen, D. (2006). Psychology 4th edition. John Wiley and Sons, Hobeoken. United States of America * Neyer, Franz J. ; Lang, Frieder R. (2003). Blood is thicker than water. Kinship Orientation among adults. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol – 84. Pg 310-321 * Fitness (2007). Lecture – Altruism and Prosocial Behaviour

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Human Motivation the Influential Drive Behind Human Altruism. (2018, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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