Article image

What makes a person altruistic and selfless?

Altruism, or the selfless concern for others, is an important part of the human experience. From a young age, we’re taught to share and help others in need, and these philanthropic and altruistic characteristics are often considered some of the best traits for a person to possess.

However, altruistic tendencies vary widely from person to person, ranging from completely selfless with no thought to personal gain to those who are selfishly motivated or antisocial.

What drives the development of altruism and what makes someone more or less prosocial than another?

Researchers from the University of Virginia tackled these questions in a new study published in the journal PLOS Biology.

The research expands on the theory that being more sensitive to a fearful expression correlates with having higher prosocial tendencies.

For the study, the researchers wondered if altruism could be predicted based on how an infant or toddler responds to someone in distress.

The researchers tracked eye movements and measured brain activity of infants at 7 months of age as they responded to different emotional facial expressions like happy, fearful, and angry.

Seven months later, when the infants had reached toddler age, the researchers compared altruistic behavior to the earlier responses to facial expressions and discovered that focusing on fearful faces predicted altruistic behavior later on.

The results show that altruism is linked to our response to seeing someone in distress or fear and how we focus on those emotions in others, particularly at a young age.

“Our results are in line with the notion that a caring continuum exists, along which individuals differ in their tendency to display sensitive responses to others’ distress that motivate prosocial action,” said Tobias Grossmann, the leader of the research. “This study provides new insights into the nature of human altruism by uncovering its developmental and brain origins.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day