The psychology of shoulder-to-shoulder

The consistently sublime RadioLab has a wonderful programme on the psychology of altruism which manages to capture the psychology of supporting others in gripping stories of human interaction.

The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice.

Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?

The programme touches on everything from the mathematics of nuclear war to the motivation for heroism and, as always, is really better experienced than described.

But even given the usual exceptional quality of RadioLab, this episode is definitely not one to miss. Fantastic stuff.

Link to RadioLab on altruism.


  1. Posted December 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Radiolab is about the best thing ever.

  2. Phil
    Posted December 31, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    The phrase ‘rewards genuine cooperation’ seems to anwer it for me. A person is altruistic because of the reward. The feeling of ‘feeling good’, or even b etter; other people thinking good of you.
    From the hindbrains point of view, there is no such thing as a stranger you can never meet again. There just aren’t that many people in the world. So it rewards you for doing ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ so that you human support group is bigger. Basically a form of self-interest, but not selfish in nature.

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