Contrast two theories explaining altruism in humans



Theory 1: Kin selection theory (an evolutionary theory)


Based on the idea that individuals are more likely to sacrifice themselves for relatives than non-relatives. By sacrificing yourself for relatives (e.g. helping them at the cost of not having babies yourself) you still contribute to the survival of your genes by helping close relatives.


Strengths of kin selection theory




Limitations of kin selection theory





Study to use: Simmons et al. (1977)



Theory 2: The empathy-altruism theory (Batson 1981)





1.    the observer has had similar experiences

2.    the observer is attached to the victim

3.    the person is instructed to imagine what it is like to be in the victimís position.



Strengths of empathy-altruism theory:




Limitations of empathy-altruism theory





Study to use: Batson et al. (1981)


Contrasting the two theories


Kin selection theory

Empathy-altruism theory

The focus is on genes that operate at a biological level without human consciousness. The theory is largely based on observation of animals and insects. Humans are much more complex.

The focus is on the human emotion empathy as the primary motivating factor in altruism.

Altruism is seen as a behavior that has a cost to the individual (self-sacrifice).

The theory is based on altruism is seen as a behavior that increases another personís welfare.

The theory is based on egoism (the genes are selfish and humans tend to favor kin because of genetic similarity).

Altruism (humans can be truly altruistic). The theory does not rule out the possibility of an altruistic personality.

The theory can explain observations of people who behave more altruistically towards kin but it cannot really explain why. It may not be for biological reasons. The theory cannot explain why people behave altruistically towards people who are not relatives.

The theory can explain why people tend to behave altruistically in situations that evoke empathy but there is not a clear linear relationship. People may feel empathy and choose not to help.

It is very difficult to test evolutionary theories as such but there is empirical support for kin altruism (kin selection), e.g. in research that involves organ donation or other situations that involve life or death.

It is relatively easy to test the theory under lab conditions but it is difficult to operationalize concepts like empathy.