Altruism and Reciprocity

The following is an excerpt from “More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews,” (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Aguiar, Fernando, Pablo Brañas-Garza, Ramón Cobo-Reyes, Natalia Jimenez and Luis M. Miller. 2009. “Are women expected to be more generous?” Experimental Economics 12(1):93-98.

This paper analyzes if men and women are expected to behave differently regarding altruism. Since the dictator game provides the most suitable design for studying altruism and generosity in the lab setting, we use a modified version to study the beliefs involved in the game. Our results are substantial: men and women are expected to behave differently. Moreover, while women believe that women are more generous, men consider that women are as generous as men.

Albert, Max, Werner Güth, Erich Kirchler and Boris Maciejovsky. 2007. “Are we nice/r to nice/r people?—An experimental analysis.” Experimental Economics 10(1):53-69.

We experimentally investigate whether individuals can reliably detect cooperators (the nice/r people) in an anonymous decision environment involving “connected games.” Participants can condition their choices in an asymmetric prisoners’ dilemma and a trust game on past individual (their partner’s donation share to a self-selected charity) and social (whether their partner belongs to a group with high or low average donations) information. Thus, the two measures of niceness are the individual donation share in the donation task, and the cooperativeness of one’s choice in the two games. We find that high donors achieve a higher-than-average expected payoff by cooperating predominantly with other high donors. Group affiliation proved to be irrelevant.

Ambrose, Don. 2009. “Morality and high ability: Navigating a landscape of altruism and malevolence. Pp. 49-71 in Morality, Ethics, and Gifted Minds, edited by Don Ambrose and Tracy Cross. Springer Publishing.

This wide-ranging exploration of theory and research from ethical philosophy, political science, economics, psychology, primatology, and other disciplines extends beyond current perspectives on morality and giftedness in high-ability fields such as gifted education and creative studies. Morality largely derives from identity formation and maps along three dimensions on a new theoretic model of moral-ethical impact: from pure altruism through malevolence, from local to global impact, and from minimal to exceptional ability and influence. Providing a framework for synthesis of diverse conceptions of morality, the model incorporates various forms of moral behavior such as universalist and particularist morality, amorality, quasi-altruism, immorality, moral atomism, and reciprocal altruism. The nature and dynamics of these and other forms of morality are explored along with some important sociocontextual influences on individuals’ identity formation and actions in the world. The influence of globalized, neoliberal ideology provides a specific example of the model’s dynamics. Implications for the moral development of bright young people are discussed.

When individuals of high ability (broadly defined here as any combination of giftedness, talent, creativity, and intelligence) follow their aspirations and exercise their talents in the world their actions can have considerable moral impact. Understanding this impact requires an interdisciplinary search for insights because the nuances of high ability are too complex to be captured within the confines of one or a few disciplines (Ambrose 2005a, in press). The wide-ranging analysis in this chapter draws from multiple disciplines and generates a new conceptual model of moral-ethical impact.

Many of the research studies and theories in the analysis are little known in fields such as gifted education and creative studies, yet they have strong relevance to high ability. For example, much current theorizing about morality emerges from rational-choice theory in the social sciences and similar theory in evolutionary biology. These theories often imply that moral behavior derives from reciprocal altruism—doing something for others with the expectation of payback in the future. These explanations can elucidate cases of low-level altruism but they do not explain the more impressive acts of relational-altruistic, universalist morality, which come from perceptions of self as integrated with humanity as a whole as opposed to self as atomistic individual, or as part of an insular group (for elaboration, see Gewirth 1998; Monroe 1996, 2004). Considered together, discoveries from multiple disciplines provide more complete explanations of the more remarkable forms of altruism.

Andreoni, James, William T. Harbaugh, and Lise Vesterlund. 2007 “Altruism in experiments.” In The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, edited by Steven Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Azad, Amar Prakash, Eitan Altman, and R. El-Azouzi. 2008. “From altruism to non-cooperation in routing games.” arXiv:0808.4079v3. ( cache/arxiv/pdf/0808/0808.4079v3.pdf)

The paper studies the routing in the network shared by several users. Each user seeks to optimize either its own performance or some combination between its own performance and that of other users, by controlling the routing of its given flow demand. We parameterize the degree of cooperation which allows to cover the fully non-cooperative behavior, the fully cooperative behavior, and even more, the fully altruistic behavior, all these as special cases of the parameter’s choice. A large part of the work consists in exploring the impact of the degree of cooperation on the equilibrium. Our first finding is to identify multiple Nash equilibria with cooperative behavior that do not occur in the non-cooperative case under the same conditions (cost, demand and topology). We then identify Braess like paradox (in which adding capacity or adding a link to a network results in worse performance to all users) and study the impact of the degree of cooperation on it. We identify another type of paradox in cooperation scenario. We identify that when we increase the degree of cooperation of a user while other users keep unchanged their degree of cooperation, leads to an improvement in performance of that user. We then pursue the exploration and carry it on to the setting of Mixed equilibrium (i.e. some users are non atomic-they have infinitesimally small demand, and other have finite fixed demand). We finally obtain some theoretical results that show that for low degree of cooperation the equilibrium is unique, confirming the results of our numerical study.

Bardsley, Nicholas. 2008. “Dictator game giving: altruism or artifact?” Experimental Economics 11(2):122-133.

Experimental dictator games have been used to explore unselfish behaviour. Evidence is presented here, however, that subjects’ generosity can be reversed by allowing them to take a partner’s money. Dictator game giving therefore does not reveal concern for consequences to others existing independently of the environment, as posited in rational choice theory. It may instead be an artefact of experimentation. Alternatively, evaluations of options depend on the composition of the choice set. Implications of these possibilities are explored for experimental methodology and charitable donations respectively. The data favour the artifact interpretation, suggesting that demand characteristics of experimental protocols merit investigation, and that economic analysis should not exclude context-specific social norms.

Bégue, Laurent, Marie Charmoillaux, Julien Cochet, Caroline Cury, and Florence De Suremain. 2008. “Altruistic behavior and the bi-dimensional just world belief.” American Journal of Psychology 121(1):47-56.

Thirty participants were sampled after donating charity to a street beggar and were compared by means of 2 short scales of belief in ajust world for self (BJWS) and belief in a just world for others (BJWO) with 30 randomly selected people who passed the beggar by without donating charity. We assumed that BJWO would be negatively related to altruistic behavior, whereas BJWS would be positively linked with it. A logistic regression analysis introducing BJWS, BJWO, and participants’ age and gender as predictors showed that BJWO was negatively related to altruistic behavior, whereas the BJWS tended to be positively associated to it. No effects were observed for age or gender.

Bishop, Jeffrey P., and Charlotte E. Rees. 2007. “Hero or has-been: Is there a future for altruism in medical education?” Advances in Health Sciences Education 12(3):391-399.

The term “altruism” is often used without definition, leading to contradictions in what we expect from medical students. In this reflection paper, we critique the concept of ‘altruism’ from the perspective of moral philosophy and social psychology and challenge its unquestioned usage within the medical education literature, especially that emerging from the USA. We will argue that ‘altruism’ is a social construction with a particular history, stemming from Kantian philosophy and perpetuated within newer disciplines such as social psychology. As it currently stands, ‘altruism’ seems to mean utter self-sacrifice—a position contradictory to recent recommendations by regulatory bodies in the UK, which suggest that graduates should look after the ‘self’ and achieve a work-life balance. In this article, we argue that it is undesirable to have ‘altruism’ as a learning outcome for medical students and we also argue that ‘altruism’ is not an observable behavior that can be measured. Instead, we suggest that medical educators should employ a more balanced term, borrowed from the social psychology literature i.e. pro-social behavior. We argue that whilst ‘pro-social behavior’ focuses on actions that benefit others, it does not do so at the expense of the self. In addition, it focuses on students’ observable behaviors rather than their inner motivations, so is measurable. We conclude our article by discussing the formation of physicians based upon a virtue ethics, where society and the profession are in dialogue about the telos of medicine and its virtues, and where the character of the young physician is formed within the crucible of that dialogue. Thus, central to this pro-social behavior is the concept of phronesis or prudence, including the balancing of self-interest such as self-care, and the interests of the other.

Bowles, Samuel. 2008. “Conflict: Altruism’s midwife.” Nature 456:326-327.

Generosity and solidarity towards one’s own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders, says Samuel Bowles.

Carpenter, Jeffrey, Cristina Connolly, and Caitlin Knowles Myers. 2008. “Altruistic behavior in a representative dictator experiment.” Experimental Economics 11(3):282-298.

We conduct a representative dictator game in which students and random members of the community choose both what charity to support and how much to donate to the charity. We find systematic differences between the choices of students and community members. Community members are much more likely to write in their own charity, community members donate significantly more ($17), on average, and community members are much more likely (32%) to donate the entire $100 endowment. Based on this evidence, it does not appear that student behavior is very representative in the context of the charitable donations and the dictator game.

Ellingsen, Tore, and Magnus Johannesson. 2008. “Anticipated verbal feedback induces altruistic behavior.” Evolution and Human Behavior 29(2):100-105.

A distinctive feature of humans compared to other species is the high rate of cooperation with nonkin. One explanation is that humans are motivated by concerns for praise and blame. In this paper we experimentally investigate the impact of anticipated verbal feedback on altruistic behavior. We study pairwise interactions in which one subject, the ‘divider,’ decides how to split a sum of money between herself and a recipient. Thereafter, the recipient can send an unrestricted anonymous message to the divider. The subjects’ relationship is anonymous and one-shot to rule out any repeated interaction effects. Compared to a control treatment without feedback messages, donations increase substantially when recipients can communicate. With verbal feedback, the fraction of zero donations decreases from about 40% to about 20%, and there is a corresponding increase in the fraction of equal splits from about 30% to about 50%. Recipients who receive no money almost always express disapproval of the divider, sometimes strongly and in foul language. Following an equal split, almost all recipients praise the divider. The results suggest that anticipated verbal rewards and punishments play a role in promoting altruistic behavior among humans.

Fels, Stephen, and Richard Zeckhauser. 2008. “Perfect and total altruism across the generations.” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 37(2-3):187-197.

The traditional formulation of the altruism model has altruistic terms that relate solely to other parties’ felicities from consumption. But if those others are altruistic as well, their altruism benefits are being neglected. Total altruism takes the total utilities of others, rather than their mere felicities, as the basis for altruistic valuations. We assess total altruism in an intergenerational world. Perfect altruism, a concept due to Ramsey (Econ. J. 38(152):543–559, 1928), requires that a generation value itself relative to its successor as it would any two consecutive generations. Total altruism and perfect altruism prove to be incompatible concepts. Total altruism is only meaningful when there is some generational selfishness. The analysis considers both forward-looking and forward and backward-looking altruism.

Flescher, Andrew Michael, and Daniel L. Worthen. 2007. The Altruistic Species: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives of Human Benevolence. West Conshohocken (PA): Templeton Foundation Press.

What motivates altruism? How essential is the phenomenon of altruism to the human experience? Is altruism readily accessible to the ordinary person? In The Altruistic Species, Flescher and Worthen explore these questions through the lenses of four disciplinary perspectives: biology, psychology, philosophy, and religion. In the course of their investigation, they make an extended argument for the existence of altruism against competing theories that construe all ostensible cases of benevolence as self-interest in disguise. The authors consider theories of egoism; the role of genetics and evolutionary biology; the psychological states that induce altruistic behavior; philosophical theories of altruism in normative ethics such as Kantian, utilitarian, and Aristotelian models of moral action; and accounts of love of the neighbor in Christianity and Buddhism. Additionally, they offer a new, comprehensive definition of altruism that is inclusive of the insights of each of these perspectives.

Fujiu, Hiroshi, and Makoto Yano. 2008. “Altruism as a motive for intergenerational transfers.” International Journal of Economic Theory 4(1):95-114.

This study investigates the role of altruism as a motive for transfer payments. In the existing literature on altruism, it is generally assumed that a transfer payment is made out of altruism that a transferor feels towards a transferee. This study demonstrates that this is not necessarily the case. By using a dynamic model in which children are altruistic towards parents, it demonstrates that such altruism may induce a parent to give a transfer to children.

Hardy, Chris, and Mark Van Vugt. 2006. “Nice guys finish first: The competitive altruism hypothesis.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32(10):1402-1413.

Three experimental studies examined the relationship between altruistic behavior and the emergence of status hierarchies within groups. In each study, group members were confronted with a social dilemma in which they could either benefit themselves or their group. Study 1 revealed that in a reputation environment when contributions were public, people were more altruistic. In both Studies 1 and 2, the most altruistic members gained the highest status in their group and were most frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners. Study 3 showed that as the costs of altruism increase, the status rewards also increase. These results support the premise at the heart of competitive altruism: Individuals may behave altruistically for reputation reasons because selective benefits (associated with status) accrue to the generous.

Hungerman, Daniel M. 2009. “Crowd-out and diversity.” Journal of Public Economics 93(5-6):729-740.

Research has shown that altruism is lower in diverse communities. Can this phenomenon be counteracted by government intervention? To answer this question, this paper introduces diversity to the canonical model of “warm glow” giving. Diversity may have two effects on incentives: it may attenuate individuals’ altruistic preferences for public goods, and it may “cool off” the warm glow that individuals get from voluntarism. Either of these effects leads to diverse communities having lower levels of public goods, consistent with prior research. However, these effects have opposite implications for the efficacy of government intervention. I then empirically investigate whether government intervention is more effective in diverse communities. For identification, I exploit the Supreme Court-mandated 1991 expansion of the SSI program. Using a new dataset of United Methodist churches from 1984 to 2000, the results show that the expansion of SSI crowded-out charitable spending by churches. The crowd-out estimate for the average church is reasonably large, but this masks significant differences in crowd-out between communities. Crowd-out occurred almost entirely in relatively homogeneous communities; there is only modest evidence of crowd-out in racially diverse communities. Thus diverse communities, while having the lowest levels of altruism, are in this instance the most amenable to government intervention.

Innocenti, Alessandro, and Maria Grazia Pazienza. 2008. “Gender differences and altruism: An experimental study.” Pp. 134-158 in Games, Rationality and Behaviour: Essays in Behavioural Game Theory and Experiments, edited by Alessandro Innocenti and Patrizia Sbriglia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Iwagama, Akio, and Naoki Masuda. 2009. Upstream reciprocity in heterogeneous networks. (

Many mechanisms for the emergence and maintenance of altruistic behavior in social dilemma situations have been proposed. Indirect reciprocity is one such mechanism, where altruistic actions of a player are eventually rewarded by other players with whom the original player has not interacted. The upstream reciprocity (also called generalized indirect reciprocity) is a type of indirect reciprocity and represents the concept that those helped by somebody will help other unspecified players. In spite of the evidence for the enhancement of altruistic behavior by upstream reciprocity in rats and humans, this mechanism has not been really supported in theory. In the present study, we numerically investigate upstream reciprocity in heterogeneous contact networks, in which the players generally have different number of neighbors. We show that heterogeneous networks considerably enhance cooperation in a game of upstream reciprocity. In heterogeneous networks, the most generous strategy, by which a player helps a neighbor on being helped and in addition initiates helping behavior, first occupies hubs in a network and then disseminates to other players. The scenario to achieve enhanced altruism resembles that seen in the case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game in heterogeneous networks.

Kamas, Linda, Anne Preston, and Sandy Baum. 2008. “Altruism in individual and joint-giving decisions: What’s gender got to do with it?” Feminist Economics 14(3):23-50.

This paper uses dictator experiments to examine gender differences in altruistic behavior in the United States when decisions are made individually and jointly. In anonymous individual giving to charity, women give substantially more than men, and in paired settings, mixed-sex groups give the most while all male pairs give the least. Evidence supports social information and negotiation effects as participants change giving toward that of their partners. Social image effects are found only in mixed-sex groups, indicating a gender-based component to the value of the social signal sent. Although men and women appear to have similar influence, the positive social image effect pushes giving in mixed-sex pairs above the sum of the members’ individual gifts because the less altruistic partners (usually men) adjust their giving upward more than the more altruistic partners (usually women) reduce giving. Therefore, increasing women’s participation in traditionally male spheres of decision making may result in more altruistic economic behavior. Adapted from the source document.

Keysar, Boaz, Benjamin A. Converse, Jiunwen Wang, and Nicholas Epley. 2008. “Reciprocity is not give and take: Asymmetric reciprocity to positive and negative acts.” Psychological Science 19(12):1280-1286.

Unlike economic exchange, social exchange has no well-defined “value.” It is based on the norm of reciprocity, in which giving and taking are to be repaid in equivalent measure. Although giving and taking are colloquially assumed to be equivalent actions, we demonstrate that they produce different patterns of reciprocity. In five experiments utilizing a dictator game, people reciprocated in like measure to apparently prosocial acts of giving, but reciprocated more selfishly to apparently antisocial acts of taking, even when the objective outcomes of the acts of giving and taking were identical. Additional results demonstrate that acts of giving in social exchanges are perceived as more generous than objectively identical acts of taking, that taking tends to escalate, and that the asymmetry in reciprocity is not due to gaining versus losing resources. Reciprocity appears to operate on an exchange rate that assigns value to the meaning of events, in a fashion that encourages prosocial exchanges.

Krebs, D.L. 2006. “The nature of altruism: Ultimate determinant and proximate mechanisms.” Psychological Inquiry 17:48-50.

Leider, Stephen, et al. 2007. “Directed altruism and enforced reciprocity in social networks: How much is a friend worth?” Working Paper 13135, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.

We conduct field experiments in a large real-world social network to examine why decision makers treat friends more generously than strangers. Subjects are asked to divide surplus between themselves and named partners at various social distances, where only one of the decisions is implemented. In order to separate altruistic and future interaction motives, we implement an anonymous treatment where neither player is told at the end of the experiment which decision was selected for payment and a non-anonymous treatment where both players are told. Moreover, we include both games where transfers increase and decrease social surplus to distinguish between different future interaction channels including signaling one’s generosity and enforced reciprocity, where the decision maker treats the partner to a favor because she can expect it to be repaid in the future. We can decompose altruistic preferences into baseline altruism towards any partner and directed altruism towards friends. Decision makers vary widely in their baseline altruism, but pass at least 50 percent more surplus to friends compared to strangers when decision making is anonymous. Under non-anonymity, transfers to friends increase by an extra 24 percent relative to strangers, but only in games where transfers increase social surplus. This effect increases with density of the network structure between both players, but does not depend on the average amount of time spent together each week. Our findings are well explained by enforced reciprocity, but not by signaling or preference-based reciprocity. We also find that partners’ expectations are well calibrated to directed altruism, but that they ignore decision makers’ baseline altruism. Partners with high baseline altruism have friends with higher baseline altruism and are therefore treated better.

Lee, Jee Y., and Hae Y. Chung. 2008. “Positive illusion of exemplary altruists.” Asia Pacific Education Review 9(2):94-100.

This paper examines the relationship between altruism and positive illusion, as formulated by Taylor and Brown (1988). It was predicted that, compared to the non-exemplary, general population, exemplary altruists would exhibit a higher level of positive illusion, which, in turn, suggests a higher level of mental health. Forty exemplary altruists and forty non-exemplary altruists were assessed in terms of positive illusion and compared with each other using Hotelling T2followed by univariatet-test. The results supported the prediction that exemplary altruists showed higher scores in terms of positive illusion than that of the non-exemplary general population. The implications of the results are discussed.

Litz, Reginald A., and Srimhar Samu. 2008. “Altrustic by association, altruistic for advantage? Buying groups and small firm community involvement. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 37(4):646-667.

Does buying group membership affect small firm community involvement, and if it does, is there a further effect, in particular as it concerns small firm performance? This article addresses this intersection of issues. After advancing a set of hypotheses linking categorical and continuous dimensions of buying group activity to community involvement, this article also tests hypotheses of enlightened self-interest concerning the relationship between community involvement and firm performance. The article then describes a study of more than 300 small retail hardware stores. The findings show buying group membership being positively related to both scale and scope of community involvement. The authors also report a complex set of findings concerning the interaction of community involvement and buying group membership with small firm performance. The article concludes by reflecting on what these findings suggest for further work in small firm philanthropy.

Madsen, Elaine A., et al. 2007. “Kinship and altruism: A cross-cultural experimental study.” British Journal of Psychology 98(2):339-359.

Humans are characterized by an unusual level of prosociality. Despite this, considerable indirect evidence suggests that biological kinship plays an important role in altruistic behaviour. All previous reports of the influence of kin selection on human altruism have, however, used correlational (rather than experimental) designs, or imposed only a hypothetical or negligible time cost on participants. Since these research designs fail either to control for confounding variables or to meet the criteria required as a test of Hamilton’s rule for kin selection (that the altruist pays a true cost), they fail to establish unequivocally whether kin selection plays a role. We show that individuals from two different cultures behave in accordance with Hamilton’s rule by acting more altruistically (imposing a higher physical cost upon themselves) towards more closely related individuals. Three possible sources of confound were ruled out: generational effects, sexual attraction and reciprocity. Performance on the task however did not exhibit a perfect linear relationship with relatedness, which might reflect either the intrusion of other variables (e.g. cultural differences in the way kinship is costed) or that our behavioural measure is insufficiently sensitive to fine-tuned differences in the way individuals view their social world. These findings provide the first unequivocal experimental evidence that kinship plays a role in moderating altruistic behaviour. Kinship thus represents a baseline against which individuals pitch other criteria (including reciprocity, prosociality, obligation and a moral sense) when deciding how to behave towards others.

Maner, John K., and Matthew T. Gailliot. 2007. “Altruism and egoism: Prosocial motivations for helping depend on relationship context.” Journal of European Social Psychology 37(2):347-358.

Findings from the current study suggest that the link between helping and empathic concern – a hypothesized motivator of altruistic behavior – may be more pronounced in the context of kinship relationships than among strangers. Participants expressed their willingness to help a kin-member or stranger in specific need situations. Putative mediators of helping (empathic concern, general negative affect, perceptions of oneness) were measured. Empathic concern appeared to partially mediate effects of relationship context on willingness to help. Moreover, while controlling for egoistic motivators (negative affect, oneness), empathic concern was linked to participants’ willingness to help a kin-member but not a stranger. Findings suggest that factors motivating prosocial action in close relationships may be different from those that motivate helping among strangers.

Martin, Adam, and Kristen Renwick Monroe. 2009. “Identity, Moral Choice, and the Moral Imagination: Is There a Neuroscientific Foundation for Altruism?” Pp. 73-87 in Morality, Ethics, and Gifted Minds, edited by Don Ambrose and Tracy Cross. New York: Springer Publishing.

We review recent work in moral psychology, the neurosciences, and religion to explore the biological and behavioral foundations of altruism. Building on previous work on the psychology of rescuers during genocide (Monroe 1996, 2004, 2004), we describe the altruistic disposition as a feeling “at one with all humanity”, positing a perspective akin to Adam Smith’s “impartial spectator” (1759/2004). Findings addressing the neuropsychology of religious experience, mindfulness-based psychotherapy and the psychology of terrorism can delineate the contours in the brain that might constitute a neuroscientific foundation for altruism. We close by discussing implications of our framework and suggest future hypotheses that could be tested as a result.

Marlowe, Frank W., and J. Colette Berbesque. 2008. “More ‘altruistic’ punishment in larger societies.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences 275(1634):587-590.

If individuals will cooperate with cooperators, and punish non-cooperators even at a cost to themselves, then this strong reciprocity could minimize the cheating that undermines cooperation. Based upon numerous economic experiments, some have proposed that human cooperation is explained by strong reciprocity and norm enforcement. Second-party punishment is when you punish someone who defected on you; third-party punishment is when you punish someone who defected on someone else. Third-party punishment is an effective way to enforce the norms of strong reciprocity and promote cooperation. Here we present new results that expand on a previous report from a large cross-cultural project. This project has already shown that there is considerable cross-cultural variation in punishment and cooperation. Here we test the hypothesis that population size (and complexity) predicts the level of third-party punishment. Our results show that people in larger, more complex societies engage in significantly more third-party punishment than people in small-scale societies.

Mattis, Jacqueline S., Wizdom Powell Hammond, Nyasha Graymna, Meredith Bonacci, William Brennan, Sheri-Ann Cowie, Lina Ladyzhenskaya and Sara So. 2009. “The social production of altruism: motivations for caring action in a low-income urban community.” American Journal of Community Psychology 43(1-2):71-84.

Contemporary social science paints a bleak picture of inner-city relational life. Indeed, the relationships of low-income, urban-residing Americans are represented as rife with distress, violence and family disruption. At present, no body of social scientific work systematically examines the factors that promote loving or selfless interactions among low-income, inner-city American individuals, families and communities. In an effort to fill that gap, this ethnographic study examined the motivations for altruism among a sample of adults (n = 40) who reside in an economically distressed housing community (i.e., housing project) in New York City. Content analyses of interviews indicated that participants attributed altruism to an interplay between 14 motives that were then ordered into four overarching categories of motives: (1) needs-centered motives, (2) norm-based motives deriving from religious/spiritual ideology, relationships and personal factors, (3) abstract motives (e.g., humanism), and (4) sociopolitical factors. The implications of these findings are discussed.

McCullough, Michael E., Marcia B. Kimeldorf, Adam D. Cohen. 2008. “An adaptation for altruism? The social causes, social effects, and social evolution of gratitude.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 17(4):281-285.

People feel grateful when they have benefited from someone’s costly, intentional, voluntary effort on their behalf. Experiencing gratitude motivates beneficiaries to repay their benefactors and to extend generosity to third parties. Expressions of gratitude also reinforce benefactors for their generosity. These social features distinguish gratitude from related emotions such as happiness and feelings of indebtedness. Evolutionary theories propose that gratitude is an adaptation for reciprocal altruism (the sequential exchange of costly benefits between nonrelatives) and, perhaps, upstream reciprocity (a pay-it-forward style distribution of an unearned benefit to a third party after one has received a benefit from another benefactor). Gratitude therefore may have played a unique role in human social evolution.

Millet, Kobe, and Siegfried DeWitte. 2007. “Altruistic behavior as a costly signal of general intelligence.” Journal of Research in Personality 41(2):316-326.

Unconditional altruism is an enduring puzzle for evolutionary approaches to social behavior. In this paper, we argue that costly signaling theory, a well-established framework in biology and economics, may be useful to shed light on the individual differences in human unconditional altruism. Based on costly signaling theory, we propose and show that unconditional altruistic behavior is related to general intelligence. The cost incurred by engaging in unconditional altruism is lower for highly intelligent people than for less intelligent people because they may expect to regain the drained resources. As a result, unconditional altruism can serve as an honest signal of intelligence. Our findings imply that distinguishing altruistic behavior from cooperative behavior in social psychological and economic theories of human behavior might be useful and that costly signaling theory may provide novel insights on various individual difference variables.

Morrison, Nancy K., and Sally K. Severino. “Altruism: Toward a psychobiospiritual conceptualization.” Zygon 42(1):25-40.

Altruism, defined here as a regard for or devotion to the interest of others with whom we are interrelated, is pitted against two other dispositions in human beings: nepotism and egoism. We propose that to become fully human is to become more altruistic. We describe how altruism is mediated by our physiology, is expressed in our psychological development, is evolving in our social institutions, and becomes the moral communities that enforce our sense of right and wrong. A change in any one of these influences changes our disposition—changes who we are and what we do—potentially making altruism more possible in the world.

Montero, Maria. 2008. “Altruism, spite and competition in bargaining games.” Theory and Decision 65(2):125-151.

This paper shows that altruism may be beneficial in bargaining when there is competition for bargaining partners. In a game with random proposers, the most altruistic player has the highest material payoff if players are sufficiently patient. However, this advantage is eroded as the discount factor increases, and if players are perfectly patient altruism and spite become irrelevant for material payoffs.

Oord, Thomas Jay. 2007. The Altruism Reader: Selections from Writings on Love, Religion and Science. West Conshohocken (PA): Templeton Foundation Press.

The first of its kind, this anthology contains many of the most influential ancient and contemporary perspectives on altruism and love. Selections in The Altruism Reader include essays by philosophers, scientists, theologians, and religious leaders as well as passages from religious texts, such as the Old and New Testaments, the Qur’an, and the Bhagavadgita.

Paolilli, Antonio Luigi. 2009. “About the ‘economic’ origin of altruism.” Journal of Socio-Economics 38(1):60-71.

The principal aim of this paper is to present an evolutionary model based on a simple inequality system which shows how altruism can increase exchanges of goods and services, in order to study the conditions which can permit the emergence and prevalence of altruistic behaviors. We will show that given certain conditions, and even without considering group selection, kin selection or reciprocal altruism, altruists may have a greater probability of survival than egoists.

Peacock, Mark S. 2007. “The conceptual construction of altruism: Ernst Fehr’s experimental approach to human conduct.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 37(1):3-23.

I offer an appreciation and critique of Ernst Fehr’s altruism research in experimental economics that challenges the “selfishness axiom” as an account of human behavior. I describe examples of Fehr’s experiments and their results and consider his conceptual terminology, particularly his “biological” definition of altruism and its counterintuitive implications. I also look at Fehr’s experiments from a methodological perspective and examine his explanations of subjects’ behavior. In closing, I look at Fehr’s neuroscientific work in experimental economics and question his adherence to a subjective expected utility interpretation of subjects’ behavior.

Peloza, John, and Katherine White. 2007. “Hey, what gives? The effects of altruistic vs egoistic charity appeals on donation intentions.” Advances in Consumer Research 34(3):347-350.

Past research has been equivocal regarding whether egoistic or altruistic appeals are more effective in encouraging charitable donation. Our research seeks to address the question: When do egoistic versus altruistic appeals work best? In a series of three experiments we find that the efficacy of these two types of appeals is moderated by factors that make egoistic (vs. altruistic) motives more salient: The type of donation (volunteerism vs. money), the donation setting (public vs. private), and the self-construal of the donor (independence vs. interdependence). Implications of the findings for marketers, charitable organizations, and consumers are discussed.

Post, Stephen Garrard, et al. 2007. Why Good Things Happen to Good People. New York:Random House.

Post, Stephen Garrard, ed. 2007. Altruism and Health: Perspectives from Empirical Research. New York: Oxford University Press.

____. 2008. It’s Good to Be Good 2008: Health and Giving Annual Scientific Report_. Institute for Unlimited Love.

Roberts, Gilbert. 2008. “Evolution of direct and indirect reciprocity.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences 275 (1631):173-179.

Indirect reciprocity (IR) occurs when individuals help those who help others. It is important as a potential explanation for why people might develop cooperative reputations. However, previous models of IR are based on the assumption that individuals never meet again. Yet humans and other animals often interact repeatedly within groups, thereby violating the fundamental basis of these models. Whenever re-meeting can occur, discriminating reciprocators can decide whether to help those who helped others (IR) or those who helped them (direct reciprocity, DR). Here I used simulation models to investigate the conditions in which we can expect the different forms of reciprocity to predominate. I show that IR through image scoring becomes unstable with respect to DR by experience scoring as the probability of re-meeting increases. However, using the standing strategy, which takes into account the context of observed defections, IR can be stable with respect to DR even when individuals interact with few partners many times. The findings are important in showing that IR cannot explain a concern for reputation in typical societies unless reputations provide as reliable a guide to cooperative behaviour as does experience.

Salter, Frank. 2008. “Westermarck’s altruism.” Politics and the Life Sciences 27(2):28-46.

The ethologically oriented method of social analysis developed by Edward Westermarck is applied to the subjects of charitable behavior, the welfare ethic, and the link between them. Westermarck dealt with these topics, but not in the depth he accorded the subjects of incest aversion, the incest prohibition, and the connection between them. Westermarck’s approach to analyzing incest behavior and regulating institutions is also useful in the case of charitableness and the welfare ethic. Westermarck would have analyzed the welfare ethic as an institution derived from human nature—secundam naturam—in addition to an authoritative discipliner of behavior as proposed by Freud. Evidence is presented that this is the case with the welfare ethic in modern societies. This evidence includes the sensitivity of welfare to ethnic diversity. The latter decreases public altruism, whether expressed as charitableness to beggars, national charities, or public goods. The parochial leaning of charity and the welfare ethic is allowed for by Westermarck’s empirically grounded ethics. Despite the passage of nearly a century, Edward Westermarck can still be an instructive guide to the biosociological enterprise. This continuing relevance shows what could have been, and can still be, done with the conceptual tools offered by an evolutionarily informed sociology.

Singh, Niti, and Venkat R. Krishnan. 2008. “Self-sacrifice and transformational leadership: mediating role of altruism.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 29(3):261-274.

Purpose—To explore the mediating role of altruism in the relationship between self-sacrifice and transformational leadership, and to look at the effect of all three on followers’ collective identity and perceptions of unit performance.

Design/methodology/approach – For Study 1, survey responses were collected from 127 managers in India. They answered questions on their leader’s self-sacrifice, altruism, and transformational leadership, and on their own collective identity and perceptions of unit performance. Study 2 used a scenario experiment and 161 students to manipulate self-sacrifice and altruism and measure their effects on transformational leadership, collective identity and perceived unit performance.

Findings—It is possible to distinguish between self-sacrifice and altruism empirically. Altruism mediates the relationship between self-sacrifice and transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is positively related to followers’ collective identity and perceived unit performance.

Research limitations/implications—Common source bias may have affected the findings. Use of student sample in Study 2 limits the generalizability of findings.

Practical implications—Other-orientedness (altruism) of a manager enhances transformational leadership, which in turn leads to higher collective identity and perceived unit performance. Self-sacrifice could be a good starting point in this chain of events.

Originality/value—Studies have shown that self-sacrifice enhances transformational leadership. This paper highlights the mediating process through altruism. This is the first empirical study to look at the relationship between altruism and transformational leadership. This is also the first study to look at self-sacrifice and altruism simultaneously.

Staub, Ervin, and Johanna Vollhardt. 2009. “Altruism born of suffering: The roots of caring and helping after victimization and other trauma.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 78(3):267-280.

Research on altruism has focused on its positive roots, whereas research on the effects of victimization and suffering has focused on aggression and difficulties in functioning. However, anecdotal evidence, case studies, and some empirical research indicate that victimization and suffering can also lead people to care about and help others. This article examines the relation of “altruism born of suffering” to resilience and posttraumatic growth, and proposes potentially facilitating influences on altruism born of suffering during, after, and preceding victimization and trauma. These include experiences that promote healing, understanding what led harm doers to their actions, having received help and having helped oneself or others at the time of one’s suffering, caring by others, and prosocial role models. We suggest psychological changes that may result from these influences and lead to altruistic action: strengthening of the self, a more positive orientation toward people, empathy and belief in one’s personal responsibility for others’ welfare. The article critically reviews relevant research, and suggests future research directions and interventions to promote altruism born of suffering. Given the amount of violence between individuals and groups, understanding how victims become caring rather than aggressive is important for promoting a more peaceful world.

Vassilakis, Dimitrios K., and Vasilis Vassalos. 2009. “An analysis of peer-to-peer networks with altruistic peers.” Peer-to-Peer Networking and Applications 2(2):109-127.

We develop a new model of the interaction of rational peers in a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network that has at its heart altruism, an intrinsic parameter reflecting peers’ inherent willingness to contribute. Two different approaches for modelling altruistic behavior and its attendant benefit are introduced. With either approach, we use Game Theoretic analysis to calculate Nash equilibria and predict peer behavior in terms of individual contribution. We consider the cases of P2P networks of peers that (i) have homogeneous altruism levels or (ii) have heterogeneous altruism levels, but with known probability distributions. We find that, under the effects of altruism, a substantial fraction of peers will contribute when altruism levels are within certain intervals, even though no incentive mechanism is used. Our results corroborate empirical evidence of large P2P networks surviving or even flourishing without or with barely functioning incentive mechanisms. We also enhance the model with a simple but powerful incentive scheme to limit free-riding and increase contribution to the network, and show that the particular incentive scheme on networks with altruistic peers achieves its goal.

Van der Merwe, Wilhelm Gerhard, and Justine Burns. 2008. “What’s in a name? Racial identity and altruism in post-Apartheid South Africa.” South African Journal of Economics 76(2):266-275.

This paper reports the results of an economic experiment which was designed to test the effect of racial identity on generosity in a non-strategic setting. A sample of undergraduate university students was recruited to participate in a dictator game, where surnames of individuals were revealed to convey information about racial identity. Results indicate that compared to a set of control experiments where participant identity was kept anonymous, revealing racial identity has a significant and positive impact on the size of the offers made. However, while Black participants did not vary their offers based on the racial identity of their partners, White participants were more generous towards White partners than Black partners, exhibiting insider favouritism in their offers.

Verbrugge, Lois M., and Angelique Chan. 2008. “Giving help in return: Family reciprocity by older Singaporeans.” Aging & Society 28(1):5-34.

Reciprocity is a powerful principle in social ties. The ethos of family reciprocity is especially strong in Asian societies. We study contemporaneous family exchanges, hypothesising that the more current help older Singaporeans receive from family, the more they give in return. Cross-sectional analyses were undertaken of data from two national Singapore surveys conducted in 1995 and 1999. The help received by older people is measured by income and cash support, payment of household expenses by others, having a companion for away-from-home activities, and having a principal carer. The help given by older people is measured by baby-sitting, doing household chores, giving financial help to children, and advising on family matters. Multivariate models are used to examine the factors that affect an older person’s ability and willingness to give help. The results show that the more financial support Singapore seniors received from kin, the more baby-sitting and chores they provided. In their swiftly modernising society, Singapore seniors are maintaining family reciprocity by giving time in return for money. We discuss how during the coming decades, reciprocity in Southeast and East Asian societies may shift from instrumental to more affective behaviours.

West, S.A., A.S. Griffin, A. Gardner. 2007. “Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20(2):415-432.

Objective: Although the concept of altruism in medicine has a long tradition in Western thought, little empirical research has been carried out recently in this area. This study compares the altruistic attitudes of medical, legal and business students.

Methods: We used a cross-sectional survey to compare the altruistic attitudes of 3 types of contemporary ‘professional’ students, those in medicine, law and business.

Results :The results suggest that medical students report more altruistic attitudes than legal students, but not than business students. Overall, female students reported stronger attitudes consistent with altruism compared with males; African-American and Hispanic students reported more altruistic attitudes compared with White students.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the recent trend in recruiting more women and under-represented minority group members into medicine may have a positive impact on altruism in the profession, if we can assume that attitudes correlate with behaviours.