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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] I have three different images here, and they all demonstrate actions that are happening at different places and at different times, but the one thing that these images have in common is that they all show altruistic behavior. They all show images of people who care about the welfare of other people and are acting to help them, and behavior like this is beneficial not just to society, but to individuals as well. Studies have found a connection between volunteerism and current and future health and well-being. We also know that adults who are involved in volunteering have higher life satisfaction and a decreased risk for depression and anxiety, but considering that most definitions of altruism include the idea that the altruistic person isn't getting anything in return, we have to wonder with that definition, "Can anything ever be truly altruistic?" Is there ever a time that we actually don't benefit from altruistic actions? Keeping that in mind, we can explore what different theories say about altruism and how this behavior might develop. One thing we know about altruistic behavior is that people tend to act more altruistically to close kin or close relatives than to distant kin or non-kin. Even subtle cues indicating kinship may unconsciously increase altruistic behavior. For example, adding pictures of oneself to pictures of another, so morphing the features of your face with someone else's face actually increases the trust that we tend to have in that other person. We also know that people have to increase helping behavior when the person who's helping shares their last name, and this is especially true in cases where people have rare last names. We have to ask ourselves if this behavior really counts as altruism if it gives us an evolutionary advantage, if it allows us to pass on our genes, and in this case, I don't mean our individual, personal genes, but the genes of those who are closest to us. So is it really altruism if we're helping to select for the genes of our kin? People also tend to be more cooperative when it is likely that they will interact with that person again in the future, and this is what's known as reciprocal altruism. On the other side of that coin, we also feel more obliged to help someone else if they've helped us, and this is one of the reasons why charities tend to send out small gifts to their donors. They hope that by giving you a small gift, you will respond by giving more to them in the future. Altruism can also benefit us socially. Since altruism takes resources from the person who's giving, this can serve as a signal to other people that a person has resources and that they have ability to gather future resources, and this is referred to as cost signaling. Altruism might also act as a signal to our community that a person is open to cooperation, and people tend to have an increased trust in individuals who they know have helped out in the past. These three theories all come to the same conclusion that altruistic behavior isn't really altruistic, but I don't want you to think that psychology only talks about altruism in terms of ulterior motives. Other researchers have theorized that altruism is associated with empathy, and the reasoning behind this theory is that we know what it's like to be personally distressed, and so when we see others who are suffering, we feel the need to step in and act. To support this hypothesis, researchers have noted that individuals who score high on measures of empathy are also more likely to engage in altruistic behaviors. We also know that helping behaviors and empathy start early. Newborns have a tendency to cry when they hear other newborns cry, and though we can't really ask them why they're doing this, it could be that they recognize when other babies are distressed. We also know that helping behavior tends to emerge around age two, and this is the age when children typically start offering toys to their companions. Children at this age also tend to play-act altruism and helping, and around age four, they tend to graduate to actually helping, and the fact that all of this develops at such a young age indicates that altruism might be a normal human behavior, that we have a tendency to help other people, even when we have no internal motive to do so.