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Are People Basically Selfish? The question of whether people are basically selfish will be addressed in two ways. In one sense, this question may be restated are whether people are selfish by nature. As such, it is closely related to the broader “nature versus nurture” question. The nature side of this question asks whether people have innate tendencies to act to further their own self-interest. Similarly, we might also ask whether the trait
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  Are People Basically Selfish? The question of whether people are basically selfish will be addressed in two ways. In one sense, this question may be restated are whether people are selfish by nature. As such, it is closely related to the broader “nature versus nurture” question. The nature side of this question asks whether people have innate tendencies to act to further their own self-interest. Similarly, we might also ask whether the trait of altruism is built into people-in other words, is there a  biological basic for people to act to benefit others without any interest in how much actions will  benefit themselves? The nurture side of the question proposes that people develop the traits of selfishness or altruism through learning, experience, or the influence of their culture. In this view, altruism is not something basic to an individual that unfolds from built-in tendencies, but rather something acquired through learning and experience. The second way of addressing the question whether people are basically selfish asks whether people, for the most part, behave or are motivated to behave to further their own self-interest. The discussion that follows will address these two approaches to the question of  people’s selfishness by selectively reviewing the lit erature. We will begin by discussing the  biological basic for selfishness. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory has been used to argue both for and against the idea that people are by nature altruistic or unselfish (Rapoport, 1991). According to Darwin’s t heory, natural selection operates so that those organisms with a trait that helps them to survive and reproduce will tend to pass that trait along to their offspring. According to one view, a trait like altruism could be preserved in a species if it helped members of the group survive. Trivers (1995) argued that altruism may be preserved in a species along kinship lines. For example, an individual will sacrifice resources, even his or her life, for a close relative such as a brother or offspring, because the relative shares 50% of the same genes. This could tend to preserve the individual’s own genes by helping these related individuals to survive long enough to breed and  pass along the shared genes.  Other biologists and some psychologists have pointed out that this idea of group selection is a misunderstanding of natural selection and that natural selection actually only occurs at the individual level (Dawkins, 1989). According to this other view, there is no selective advantage for animals that sacrifice their own resources or passing along one’s genes depends only on individual survival, then it makes no sense for an individual to help others if it does not promote the individual’s own survival. Therefore, any individual with an altruistic gene that gives  its food to another or risks its life for another is at a selective disadvantage. It may not live long enough to breed and as a result will not pass along its gene for altruism to its offspring. Helping others, especially those outside of one’s kinship g roup, is very costly and would likely be selected against. Yet, many documented cases suggest that people are altruistic and may be willing to help, even risk their lives for other unrelated individuals, when they do not stand to gain from that help. For example, when a jet airliner crashed into the icy Potomac River one winter several years ago, a bystander named Lenny Skutnik imperiled his own life by repeatedly diving into the frigid waters to save some of the passengers. Another revealing example of altruism, however-a story told about Abraham Lincoln-casts some doubt on the selflessness behind altruism. Lincoln is said to have ordered the train he was riding to stop so that some drowning pigs he saw out the window could be saved. Lincoln reported that he had not done this out of an altruistic motive but rather to avoid having a guilty conscience over the matter (Batson, Bolen, Cross, Neuringer-Benefiel, 1986) In addition, there are so many documented cases of people who have field to help those in need. For exemples, in 1964 in New York City, a 28-year-old woman named Kitty Genovese was assaulted three different times over a 30-minute period and then killed while 38 different  people in her neighborhood who were aware of her plight did nothing to intervene of help her-they did not even call the police . The tragedy inspired John Darley and Bib Latane to investigate what factors would lead a  pearson to help another person an an emergency. Darley and Latane (1968) staged a situation in which collage students were randomly assigned to a group who heard over in intercome what sounded like a person having an epileptic seizure. When a second group of randomly assigned subject thought they alone had overheard the seizure, 85% of them tried to get help for the  victim, but when they thought that others had also overheard the seizure, only 30% sought help. Darlet and Latane (1968) found that people were not simply apathetic about the plight of another,  but less likely to intervene when they knew that other people were also aware of the person’s  plight. This effect has been called diffusion of responsibility. Research like this raises the question whether altruistic persons actually may be helping others for a selfish motive such as avoiding distress or guilt. Alternatively, do some people engage in altruistic acts because they feel emphaty for a suffering person-sympathy, compassion, or tendeness? To investigate that question, Coke, Batson, and McDavis (1978) conducted a study in which people heard a radio broadcast that requested participants to help a gradute student complete a study in responses to a questionnaire, thay found that feelings of personal distress in subjects were only modestly related to willingness to participate while foodings of emphaty were strongly related to willingness to participate. The study suggested that people may be altruistic  primarily for unselfish, empathic reasons. Eisenberg and fabes (1990) noted in a recent review that empathy- the vicarious response involving concern for someone else’s  distress or need-can result either in sympathy for the other person or in personal distress in response to the other’s distress. One psychologist, Hoffman (1981), argued that humans have a biologically basic empathy mechanism that’s automatically activate d when a person in need is encountered. In a review of literature, Hoffman found support for the idea that empathic responses may not be under voluntary control. He also cited research by MacLean showing that the visual processing part of the brain is conn ected to the emotional part of the brain. This connection may underlie people’s ability to “see with feeling”. In addition, developmental research has shown that infants only 1 or 2 days old cry in response to other infants’ crying. This idea of an innate empathic mechanism is also consistent with adults’ statements that they helped others in emergency situations automatically, without thinking. Other developmental research suggests that the reasons a young person helps may be complex. For example, Kenrick (1989) found that by the age of about six, children will engage in helping behavior to punish themselves in order to make up for a bad deep they have done. Cialdini, Baumann, and Kenrick (1981) reported in a review of the literature that by the time   people are in their late teens they will help others when no one is watching of even though no one will know they have helped. While these research suggest that altruism develops by the late teens, the research on socialization-that is, how people acquire characteristics and value through their social groups-suggests that people do not start out as altruists but rather develop this trait after considerable  practice, rewards, observation of altruistic models, and the internalization of altruistic value (Grusec, 1991). Based on other review of the research on the socialization of prosocial behavior , Kim and Stevens (1987) argued that parents exert considerable influence on the development of the altruism and other prosocial characteristics when they communicate their expectations for  prosocial behavior, reward young children for showing it, and punishment for failures to show it, and when they model prosocial behavior for their children to observe in various situations. The authors also pointed out the parents who use inductive reasoning when their children to justify the need for prosocial behavior will be more effective in helping their children to develop the disposition to behave prosocially than parents who simply request such behavior. Whereas Cialdiniet al. (1981) found that people in their late teens will help even when no one else is aware of it, research by Batson et al. (1986) found that helping occurred more when the failure to help was likely to be detected by someone else than when it was likely to be undetected. The pattern of correlations with empathy scores in this study was also consistent with the idea that people help others to avoid feeling guilt, rather than out of an unselfish, emphatic concern for the person needing help. Other studies have shown that empathy may lead to helping withour egoistic motives. A study by Fultz, Batson, Fortenbach, McCarthy, and Varney (1986) found that subjects who felt more empathy offered to help regardless of wheater they thought thet were going to be evaluated on wheater they helped or not, suggesting that empathy does not result in helping for the egoistic or selfish reason of avoiding social disapproval. In study consistent with this last finding, Sibiky, Schroeder, and Dovidio (1995) randomly assigned their subject into groups that were induced to  be either high or low in empathy by having statement read to them suggesting that kind of mental set. They found that emphatic subjects gave fewer hints to help other subjects when they were told that the hints could hurt the subject later in the experiment. These results suggested that empathy increases sensitivity to other’s needs.

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Jul 23, 2017
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