The literature on altruism in social psychology, and to a lesser degree in sociology, economics, political behavior and sociobiology since the early 1980’s is reviewed. The authors take the position that in all of these areas, there appears to be a “paradigm shift” away from the earlier position that behavior that appears to be altruistic must, under closer scrutiny, be revealed as reflecting egoistic motives. Rather, theory and data now being advanced are more compatible with the view that true altruism—acting with the goal of benefitting another—does exist and is a part of human nature.

Research in social psychology during the 80’s had a decreased emphasis on situational determinants of helping. Rather, it has focussed mainly on the following topics: the existence and nature of the altruistic personality, the debate concerning the nature of the motivation underlying helping behavior, and the nature of the process of the development of altruism in children and adults. During this time there has also been considerable theoretical and empirical work on possible biological bases for altruism, and on the evolutionary processes by which these might have developed. Within economics, politics, and sociology, the issues of behavior in social dilemmas, the provision of public goods, private and corporate philanthropy, and voluntarism (including donation of time, money, and physical parts of the self) are discussed.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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