In evolutionary psychology, attempts at explaining pro-social behavior often mention the presence of empathy in the individual as a possible variable. Although exact motives behind complex social behaviors are difficult to distinguish, the “ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person and experience events and emotions the way that person experienced them” is the definitive factor for truly altruistic behavior. If empathy is not felt, social exchange (what’s in it for me?) supersedes pure altruism, but if empathy is felt, an individual will help by actions or by word, regardless of whether it is in their self-interest to do so and even if the costs outweigh potential rewards.
[from Psychology Today, Nov 2012]
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