Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Observation of Altruism

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3476-1



Altruism can generally be understood as voluntary behavior which benefits another organism(s) but that demands from the benefactor a certain sacrifice, that is, an action that increases the beneficiary’s aptitude at the cost of the benefactor’s aptitude. In this sense, self-sacrifice is a hallmark of altruism, given that it can sometimes involve risk, be unhealthy, or even be dangerous.


More and more people are recognizing the importance of behaviors aimed at benefiting others (i.e., pro-social behaviors). This signals the importance of becoming aware of the implications of such actions for society as a whole. Of the different psychological phenomena, altruism stands out, this in view of the potentially high cost to the benefactor. This is true specifically in the case of human beings, which demonstrate their potential to act for the other in various ways, such as donating blood or organs or...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Batson, C. D. (2012). The empathy-altruism hypothesis: Issues and implications. In J. Decety (Ed.), Empathy: From bench to bedside (pp. 41–54). London: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bowles, S., Choi, J. K., & Hopfensitz, A. (2003). The co-evolution of individual behaviors and social institutions. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 223, 135–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Stavrova, O., & Ehlebracht, D. (2015). A longitudinal analysis of romantic relationship formation: The effect of prosocial behavior. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 1–7.Google Scholar
  4. Stevens, J. R., & Hauser, M. D. (2004). Why be nice? Psychological constraints on the evolution of cooperation. Trends in Cognitive Science, 8, 60–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Swain, J. E., Konrath, S., Brown, S. L., Finegood, E. D., Akce, L. B., Dayton, C. J., & Ho, S. S. (2012). Parenting and beyond: Common neurocircuits underlying parental and altruistic caregiving. Parenting Science and Practice, 12, 115–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Tomasello, M. (2010). Origins of human communication. London: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Warneken, F. (2010). On the origins of altruism in ontogeny and phylogeny. Lecture presented at Boston University Dialogues on Biological Anthropology, Boston.Google Scholar
  8. Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science, 311, 1301–1303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2008). Roots of human altruism in chimpanzees. Primate Eye, 96 (Special Issue: Abstracts of the XXII congress of IPS), 16.Google Scholar
  10. Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2009). The roots of human altruism. British Journal of Psychology, 100, 455–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Warneken, F., Hare, B., Melis, A. P., Hanus, D., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Spontaneous altruism by chimpanzees and young children. PLoS Biology, 5, 1414–1420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin M. Kniffin
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA