Human Altruism Essay

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Critically examine two explanations of human altrusions. One explanation of human altrusion comes from the empathy-altruism hypothesis. This theory was put forward by Batson 1987, who argued that moral development was linked to growth of empathy. He suggested that altruistic behaviour is motivated mainly by empathy. He claimed that there are two main emotional reactions that occur when we observe someone in distress; empathic concern; a sympathetic focus on the other person's distress, plus the motivation to reduce it, and personal distress: concern with one's own discomfort, plus the motivation to reduce it. There are some studies which support the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Batson 1981 devised a situation to test the hypothesis. Female students observed a student called Elaine receiving a number of mild electric shocks. The students were then asked whether they would take the remaining shocks instead of Elaine. Some of the students were told that they were free to leave the experiment if they wanted. The other students were told that they would have to stay and watch Elaine being shocked if they refused to take the shocks themselves. All the students received a placebo drug that actually had no effects and were given misleading information about the drug, so that they would interpret their reactions to Elaine as either empathic concern or personal distress. Batson found that most of the students in the two groups who felt empathic concern offered to take the remaining shocks regardless of whether they could leave the situation. In contrast,, those who felt personal distress offered to take the shocks when escape was difficult but far fewer did so when escape was easy. Thus, those feeling personal distress were motivated to help by fear of social disapproval if they did not help, rather than by any real desire to help Elaine. A limitation of

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