Written by Offra Gerstein.
The recent acts of heroism seen immediately following the Boston Marathon explosions may have rekindled our public amazement at the courage of untrained strangers who put themselves at risk to aid others. What is the source of these altruistic acts commonly seen at times of extreme human suffering that defies the evolutionary instincts of self-preservation?
The word “altruism” is credited to the French Philosopher August Comte. It is derived from the Latin word alter, which means “other.”
Researchers have posed several hypotheses for altruism defined as “Behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but benefits others of its species.” Emma Seppala, associate director of the Center of Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, hypothesizes that the interpersonal connection that occurs during times of crises may have evolutionary benefits for the survival of humans.
Seppala also believes that social preprogramming may explain why “countless soldiers have perished running into a line of fire to save an injured brother-at arms.” She surmises, “Acute stress may help remind us of our common humanity,” which “can inspire kindness, connection, and a desire to stand together and support each other.”
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