Altruism is a selfless action which occurs when an individual engages in a behaviour that causes them a fitness reduction, but produces a fitness benefit for another individual. Some examples of human altruistic behaviour include charities, environmentalism and emergency aid.
Certain emotions, such as compassion and empathy assist individuals in being able to practice altruism. There is no one theory which describes why altruism has evolved. Although it is thought that this type of moral behaviour is a result of biological evolution and not necessarily the result of religious practices.
In a biological sense this sort of helpful and ethical behaviour must have served to reward the reproductive success of individuals. This means that individuals which were more moral, therefore altruistic, left the most descendants in comparison to those which were the least moral. Furthermore, in almost all cultures there exists the concept of morality, which may indicate that in fact altruism is a product of biological evolution, rather than the result of a particular religion.
There are different types of altruistic behaviours:
- Kin-selection based altruism: This type of altruism is centered on the idea that individuals are most willing to assist those who are related to them (have the same genes) or individuals who look most similar to them.
- Indirect reciprocity: This type of altruism, such as donating money to a homeless person or shelter, occurs when the actor inflicts moral behaviour upon someone who will most likely not reciprocate the favour. Rather this individual may become recognized by the community and thus, raise their reputation.
- Non-kin helping behaviour: This type of altruism may have evolved as a method to increase one’s social status, confer attractiveness to mates, to increase reciprocity between non-relatives and as a by-product of feeling the need to help kin.
- Strong reciprocity: This is based from the idea that it is beneficial to help others if there is a chance that they are likely to return the favour at some point in the future.
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