Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Altruism can be actively cultivated

25.03.2008
Empathy is an emotional reaction to the suffering of others. Empathy can lead to altruistic behaviour, i.e. helping someone with the sole intention of enhancing that person’s wellbeing.

If we see people in difficulty, for example, we feel the same emotions, and this may prompt us to help them. Yet the relationship between empathy and altruism is still far from clear.

Psychologist Lidewij Niezink has researched this subject. She concluded that when we help friends in need, we are prompted by feelings of empathy, and that when we help relatives we do so because we have expectations of reciprocity. Niezink will receive her PhD on 27 March 2008 at the University of Groningen.

She measured the empathic responses by telling the participants in the study about a young woman who is in a wheelchair following a serious accident. The participants then had to answer a series of questions designed to show how much they sympathise and identify with the woman.

Social comparison
Among other things, Niezink studied the empathetic reactions of people who often compare themselves with others. ‘We all compare ourselves with the people around us, but some people do this more than others. When the people in this group compare themselves with someone in a worse position, they often experience negative emotions such as tension, agitation, anxiety and irritation.’ Niezink discovered that these negative emotions are actually an expression of empathy. These people feel involved with the person in need, and identify with him/her. The negative emotions are a way of expressing this.
Family and friends
Niezink also studied the role of empathetic feelings in relationships with friends and family members. She discovered that we help friends for different reasons than family members. ‘People help friends out of feelings of empathy, but they help family members because they have expectations about reciprocation.’ This result is surprising, because it was always assumed that empathy was primarily a characteristic of family relationships. ‘But it is logical when you think about it. When you move house, it’s always your brother who comes to help. You can usually rely on family. We do not choose our families, but we do choose our friends. We feel a greater sense of connection with friends, so feelings of empathy are more important.
Altruistic options model
Niezink also compared various studies of empathy, and concludes that the methods varied quite considerably. ‘They are not talking about the same concept. That makes it more difficult to study altruism.’ Niezink then developed the ‘altruistic choice model’. The model works as follows. You see the suffering of others and this leads to a feeling of empathy, over which you have no control. This can be followed by various emotional responses: sympathizing/identifying with the person in question, concern or ‘softheartedness’ (tender feelings). These are responses that we can influence. These responses, in turn, can lead to compassion and altruism, i.e. understanding the other person’s suffering and the willingness to alleviate it. According to Niezink: ‘Altruism is a choice and something that we can actively cultivate when we observe others in need.’
Negative perception unjustified
Niezink is surprised about the fact that altruism is undervalued in our society. ‘We are pack animals. We cannot exist in isolation, so it is no scandal if we are willing to help each other. I’m not saying we must, but we can. Altruism makes the world a more pleasant place.’ It is rewarding to help someone. ‘Some people say, therefore, that helping others is based on selfish motives. If you help someone and it has positive consequences for you, that does not mean to say that your underlying motives are not altruistic.'
Curriculum Vitae
Lidewij Niezink (1979) studied Psychology at the University of Groningen. In 2003 she began her PhD research at the Social Psychology department of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. Her supervisor is Prof. A.P. Buunk and her co-supervisor is Dr F.W. Siero. The title of her thesis is: Considering Others in Need: On Altruism, Empathy and Perspective Taking. /EvL

Jos Speekman | alfa
Further information:
http://www.rug.nl/corporate/index

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>