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: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Highest-energy cosmic rays have extragalactic origin

25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

25.09.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA'S OSIRIS-REx spacecraft slingshots past Earth

25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>