Biological Evidence to Support Altruism?

In this post, I would like to discuss the concept of altruism. First, I admit that it may be difficult to acknowledge that some people in our world are truly selfless and willing to help others so that they (the “others”) benefit. However, a news article published just three days ago (September 22nd, 2014) claims not only that altruism exists, but also that there is biological evidence for it:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/22/349639464/the-biology-of-altruism-good-deeds-may-be-rooted-in-the-brain

In this article, it is mentioned that an immensely kind-hearted and selfless lady, Angela Stimpson, donated a kidney to someone she did not even know. In my opinion, such an act is an example of true altruism because the motive is clearly for the benefit of the organ recipient. Abigail Marsh, mentioned in the article as one of the most famous researchers of altruism in the US, agrees with me. Fascinated by altruism, she decided to investigate whether any biological evidence exists for this phenomenon. In a research study, she imaged the brains of 19 altruists (those who had donated a kidney to a stranger, including Angela Stimpson) and 20 non-donors to compare brain size and also took MRI scans of her participants while they completed computerized tests. She found that the amygdala, a region of the brain heavily involved in emotional response, was noticeably larger in the altruists than the non-donors. Furthermore, she found that the amygdalae of the altruistic participants were more sensitive to images of “people displaying fear or distress” than those of the non-donors.

These findings are truly exceptional because they provide sound biological evidence that altruism is a legitimate phenomenon that exists in our world. Additionally, they undermine the cynical viewpoint we discussed in class that everyone in the world is an egoist and performs good deeds only for self-satisfaction. After all, only a true altruist would donate their organs for the good of others.

3 thoughts on “Biological Evidence to Support Altruism?

  1. I was one of the students that commented how people are inherently egoists and no one can really do anything for the benefit of others. Yet, after reading the article, I think I might have been wrong. The facts and research that Marsh has are extremely valid. She does make a point to argue that there are people in the world that are truly altruists and this point makes me reconsider believing that everyone is only out here doing anything they can to benefit themselves.

  2. This is a very intriguing concept, and great evidence for altruistic values! I question, however, if it follows that altruistic acts convey pure altruism. While an actions may be completely altruistic, I do not think that an action can dictate a personality. I find the information about the brains of people who are more inclined to altruism very interesting. Essentially, even if a person may do something altruistic, I do not believe that altruism follows from these acts.

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