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Are People Born with the Preconceived Instinct to Help Others out of Altruism or Do They Learn It from Society?

Info: 12462 words (50 pages) Example Dissertation Proposal
Published: 31st Jan 2022

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Tagged: Psychology


Although the theme of altruism has existed for a long time as it is part of human nature, the term first emerged due to the French philosopher Auguste Comte as an opposite to egoism which proposes an alternative perception of human nature. Through his research, Comte had come to the conclusion that “the supremacy of the egoistic tendencies is so clear that it is itself one of the most striking traits in our nature. The great human problem is to reverse the natural order and to teach ourselves to live for others”. (Bourdeau, 2014)[1]      

It is therefore arguable that humans are capable of altruistic behaviour as while we may not be born with as Bourdeau concluded, we can teach ourselves to mind other’s lives and display a helpful attitude towards those in need. This can be done through parental guidance and the teaching of important values and through the way society is constructed in today’s time. However, this has led some psychologists to wonder to what extent this is true which has caused them to conduct social experiments and researches on this topic.


The term “altruism” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the willingness to do things that bring advantages to others, even if it results in disadvantages for yourself”. (Anon., n.d.) It was first conceived by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher in the 19th century and the founder of positivism. It was presented as an antipode to the popular concept of egoism, as human nature had been seen in a negative light for a long time. It proposed the idea that human were capable to discerning the needs of others and acting upon them, especially in times of urgency. Many philosophers, psychologists and even sociologists have research this concept to discover to what extent are humans capable of such benevolent comportment. Whereas some explain that we are only capable of altruism if it benefits us on a certain level, such as if it improves our reputations or creates a situation in which we are likely to get reciprocity in return for helping. Others have come to the understanding that due to our communal attachment as humans, we feel empathy for others and so are likely to help those in need, in the form of charity work or even small gestures.

Literature Review

What is altruism?

The Cambridge dictionary defines altruism as “the willingness to do things that bring advantage to others, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself.”  (Anon., n.d.)[2] It essentially means helping someone regardless of what it implicates for the altruists welfare. This could be based on various fields from an economic standpoint to evolutionary biology and psychology which leads to this concept having been interpreted a number of ways. This topic questions human nature and the relationship we have between individuals: be it close friends or complete strangers, are we capable of relating to someone else’s problems as we do our own?

Traditional views of altruism dictate that, as Monroe phrased it in the “A fat lady in a Corset”, “the overall effect may be aesthetically pleasing, but it does fundamental distortion to the underlying reality.” (Monroe, 1994)[3]. The analogy using cravings for food explains the orthodox belief of altruism. Whether it implies economy, evolutionary biology or psychology, it is a common belief that it is driven by self-interest and pleasure seeking, rather than the unconditional instinct to help someone. This relates to the view that individuals are at their core, self-seeking and self- interested. As Bentham described it, we are ‘utility maximisers’ as in that we do certain things to make ourselves feel good rather than focusing on the persons who need help. ‘Bentham argued that virtually all humans seek to maximize their “happiness”, defined as the surplus of pleasures over pains.  He also posited that all human actions arise from the hedonic calculus. (The amount of pleasure and pain that you can develop from an action, which then dictates the morality of the consequences. E.G. Stealing food gives you pleasure as you can eat whatever you want such as chocolate, but there is the chance of getting caught and being arrested, the chances of putting on weight, etc. Therefore, the pleasure is overcome by the pain.)  Altruism, asceticism, love, duty, a desire for freedom, obedience to the law, faith, etc. are reducible to individual pleasure and pain calculations.’ (Anon., n.d.)[4] We can conclude from this that the traditional view of humans’ capacity to be altruistic is rather pessimistic.

A more modern view of altruism was, however, developed in the late nineteenth century as exemplified by the work of Thomas Hill Green, whose principles stimulated a more positive view of human nature. He rejected the notion that humans are fundamentally self-seeking and adopted the idea that ‘Individuals have sympathy for one another; their egoism is therefore constrained by some degree of altruism.’ (Heywood, 2012)[5] This implies that individuals do exhibit certain feelings of altruism, although it might be in differing way. It doesn’t renounce the notion that individuals are self-interested, but it does introduce the idea that we are capable of more than solely caring about ourselves. It also hints at the idea that such a feeling of compassion has a more moral impact on the altruist than the individual’s ego does.

What is Reciprocal Altruism?

‘Reciprocal altruism’ implies the exchange of altruistic acts between unrelated individuals as well as between relatives.’ (C.Packer, 1977)[6] It doesn’t discriminate people by the standards of whether they are acquaintances or if they are complete strangers. It could take place in both circumstances although it does seems more unusual for strangers to return the favor at a later time. ‘If the benefits to the recipient of an altruistic act exceed the costs to the altruist, and if the recipient is likely to reciprocate at a later time, then the cumulative benefits for both individuals will have exceeded the cumulative costs of their altruism.’ (C.PACKER, 1977) This means that if the benefits of the altruist’s actions and the recipient are greater than whatever the action cost them, it implies reciprocal altruism. In simple terms, both will have obtained more than what they lost, consequently entailing that whatever they lost is less relevant compared to what they have both gained. This could be seen as an incentive for possible altruists to commit the action. It suggests that individuals could help others if the benefits of doing do are greater than whatever loss is caused by the action. However, it calls into question whether the altruist helped due to morals or the realization that they could gain something from it.

‘Natural selection would favor individuals that engaged in reciprocal altruism if they distributed their altruism with respect to the altruistic tendencies of the recipient, preferring individuals that were most likely to reciprocate and excluding non-altruists from the benefits of further altruism’. (C.PACKER, 1977)[7] This means that through as human beings, we are able to perceive whether a possible recipient would return the favor altruistically and therefore increase the benefits of an altruist action. The alternative appears undesirable which hints at the fact that individuals only do things if there is the guarantee that they will be compensated in some way. This would generally only occur among individuals who are related as they are likely to reciprocate if there is some sort of emotional connection between the two individuals. There is also the factor of whether the action will be in accordance to the recipient’s needs and wishes. ‘This model has been difficult to test because it is usually impossible to be certain that an example of altruism is not the product of ‘kin selection’2’. (C.PACKER, 1977)[8] to this present day, it hasn’t been possible to test that kind of behavior and use the results to come to a conclusion on whether the altruist decided to help based on any other factors, apart from the fact that an individual needed help.

Economic altruism

It is a very common perspective that ‘In traditional economics, there is a very basic assumption that individuals are rational utility maximisers. I.e. firms seek to maximise profits; workers seek to maximise income and levels of consumption.’ (Pettinger, 2008)This again links to the traditional view of altruism; only occurs for the benefit of the altruist. Bentham’s concept of “utility maximisers” is utilised to show that, especially in economics, individuals prioritise their needs above the needs of others. The objective here is the accumulation of money for living purposes. Individuals are required to pay for their bills in order for them to continue living, to a certain extent, a satisfactory life in which entities such as food and housing is accessible to them. According to this statement, individuals have a reasonable and shared reason why they perceive their well-being as more important than anyone else’s, especially strangers.

‘However, individuals could still act out of genuine altruism where their abiding motivation is not their personal utility but wider concepts of what is ‘the right thing to do’. (Pettinger, 2008) Certain individuals recognise that they have certain social and moral obligations to help those in need. It might not be in any relation to themselves or to their work, only the fact that their morals have incited them to be altruistic. ‘…some firms will employ workers, even if they are not necessary. This is because they don’t want to create unemployment’ (Pettinger, 2008) Some companies believe it to be their moral obligation to use their resources to better the lives of certain individuals. Companies such as Regal Springs have initiated the project ‘Fish for tree’ in countries such as Honduras which‘providescommunity members with the opportunity to start their own tilapia aquafarms…The profits from this project go back into community projects, such as planting trees to prevent soil erosion, installing electricity to reduce the use of wood for cooking, policing the forest against illegal logging, supporting health clinics, and investing in conservation education’. (Anon., n.d.)[9]

Such dedication to improve the lives of people demonstrates altruistic tendencies from the company Regal Springs. It provides evidence that altruistic actions are possible as the company does not benefit from the entire profits but rather they are used to fund community projects, further providing resources and assistance to those in need. It cannot be denied that this project could be perceived as a marketing scheme to invite customers to buy their products and therefore increase their own profits, may be increasing their ‘cumulative benefits’ as theorised by (C.PACKER, 1977). It is also entirely possible that while they had altruistic motives for the project, they have managed to benefit from its success.

Psychological Altruism/what motivates us

This type of altruism explores why and how individuals feel the need to help others. Many psychologists have done researches and concluded that whether for immoral or moral reasons, there are psychological reasons to their actions. Batson (1991) remarks in his book ‘The Altruism Question: towards a Psychological Answer’ that when a particular source encourages an individual to be altruistic, they are often regarded as ‘evidence that they evoke altruistic behaviour’ (Batson, 1991)[10]. He revealed that there would then be a long list of the sources of altruism. For the helper, these include: ‘self-esteem, competence, the disposition to feel empathy, and internalisation of moral standards’. (Batson, 1991) This suggests that there may be many reasons for an individual to help someone, including good and bad ones, as socially determined. He also establishes that ‘competence’; the capacity to help using either or both physical force and/or intelligence, is a factor to consider.

Batson also recognised common characteristics in the ‘person(s) helped – including innocence, attractiveness, dependence, age and sex. (Batson, 1991). He inserts that the recipient of altruistic actions have been observed to possess certain features that influence the decision to help. Morals and justice play have a big effect on the altruist. Therefore, if the recipient seemed innocent, such an information could influence an individual to help. For example, if the altruist found the recipient to be in a violent predicament in which they appeared blameless, they would help in the name of justice and morals.

The affiliation between the altruist and the recipient is also important ‘— including prior contact, anticipated future contact, friendship, kinship, and similarity’ (Batson, 1991). As mentioned by Packer and his work on reciprocal altruism, there are more chances of altruism if the helper and the recipient are acquainted and are likely to see each other again in a short time frame. The similarity factor could also be considered to include race. It seems more likely that someone will help if the recipient is from the country as the altruist, especially if they have a strong sense of patriotism.

Batson also considers ‘the helping situation – including clarity of need, cost of helping, and availability of other helpers.’ (Batson, 1991). He has concluded that individuals are more likely to help if it the action doesn’t encumber them to a certain extent. Another factor that relates to the availability of other helpers is the Bystander Effect which dictates that the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for an individual to help. This phenomenon was made popular by Bibb Latane and John Darley and is often connected to the case of Kitty Genovese in which, during the prolonged period of her murder, not one of the alleged 38 witnesses came to her rescue. ‘Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behaviour of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese’s case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbours’ inaction that their own personal help was not needed.’ (Anon., n.d.)[11]

Although the case of Kitty Genovese disproves the theory of altruism, another experiment taken on Social Psychology’s Perspective on Prosocial Behaviour, attests to the fact that altruists can emerge in public places. The experiment involved a child left alone in a car during a hot day. The fact that this put the baby’ life at risk was recognised by some people who didn’t hesitate to intervene immediately. Many altruists decided to help because they felt it was the ‘right thing to do’ (Anon., n.d.)[12]. Many of them also expressed anger towards the mother, saying things such as: she should be shot and that she doesn’t have the right to be a mother.


The traditional views of human nature have always been negative, majorly due to the fact that they take their roots in the religious origin of human beings. In Christianity, thanks to Eve’s inability to restrain herself and her desires, people and most importantly women have been subjected to the idea that at their core they are naturally more inclined to committing crimes and immoral actions as we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. In the book “City of Gods”, Augustine shares his theology that our incline towards evil and egoistic actions derive from the fact that our free will, a privilege offered to us by God has given us the freedom to make immoral decisions. If we were re-disposed to only making positive and helpful decisions, it could not be considered free will. Such as theory explained how God’s creations would be capable of committing sin.

At our core, the mind (immoral as it makes the decisions) is rival with our body (pure as it was shaped by God), and therefore with this “rebellion we are born”. We are born with a tendency towards committing crimes which originates from our minds. This view can be connected to the concept of altruism, as our inability to make moral choices also makes us unable to make the conscious decision to provide assistance to someone in need. We prefer to concentrate on satisfying our needs and desires rather than sacrificing what could be trivial desires in the case of someone else needing our help.  (Anon., n.d.) [13]

However, many religions have based their doctrines on human nature on the faith that we, as individuals, are capable of behaving in a manner that exhibits a social conscience and altruism. Christian beliefs have offered a solution to deterring negative attitudes in order to achieve good and develop an altruistic attitude. For a very long time, people have had to repress their natural desires such as their sexual or economic appetites in order to achieve self-affirmation, which according to the Oxford dictionary refers to the “recognition and assertion of the existence and value of one’s individual self.” (Anon., n.d.) [14]This demonstrates a different sides to the negative religious perception of human nature. This religious view argues that we are capable of exercising rationality and control over ourselves. In Christianity, this would refer to the abstinence from immoral influences which they traditionally considered to be alcohol, abortion, and homosexuality and so on. They believed that “the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own” (Smith, 2016)[15].

This refers to the idea that they believed God created our bodies and therefore they are not entirely our properties to use or damage however we want. They advocated a respect for the purity of our bodies on the grounds that we should keep them in pristine condition to adhere to God’s wishes and then be accepted into heaven.  Such views are shared by other religions such as Islam, who restricts indulgence such as sexual activities by concealing themselves, especially women who have to cover their hair, and their bodies up as part of their culture in order to restrain their needs. Their willingness to go to such extents to keep a clear conscience chows that individuals are capable of positive actions if we believe they are morally right. This encourages the view that individuals have a positive human nature, which renders us able to carry out altruistic actions.

Over time, some perceptions of religion have become more lenient and tolerant in accepting and embracing certain concepts, even if it does not influence them in any way. This exemplifies altruistic behaviour as individuals are thinking about the welfare of others, through parliamentarian changes, public manifestations or even sympathetic support. This also implies that individuals are capable of behaviour isn’t self-seeking nor egoistical. The Pauline phrase dictates that “love seeks not its own interests” (Anon., last edited 2018)[16] meaning that individuals are not and should not be self-seeking, but rather should serve God and other individuals, as they are all His creations. Such a principle stems from the fact that hurting or neglecting humans is a direct offence at God and could be punished with being sent down to hell after death.

Furthermore, the emotion of love is also a natural one that all humans are capable of feeling which shapes the argument against Augustine’s theory that we are born with our minds rivalling our bodies. It is important to note that these issues have experienced progressing support in legislative terms. The ability to empathise with others’ needs and desires is becoming more and more prominent. This is exemplified in various attitudes towards issues such as homosexuality, a controversial topic which has experienced many religious criticism.

A chart that I have found on Pewforum, displays the increasing support for homosexuality and same-sex marriages from the most prominent religions at the moment. Results from 2000 to 2004, support ranged from 20% to 60%, the latter being the highest percentage from the “unaffiliated”, which further demonstrates that religious beliefs generally restrain open-mindedness over issues that are becoming more and more made public. Such traditional have however, become less and less shared as shown in the chart with its results for the year 2017; the percentages have plummeted with the smallest being 30% and the highest being 80%, which is a high jump from the year 2000 to 2010. A large percentage of these results are heterosexual individuals who feel it is important to speak out such issues, not only for their own good, but for the good of others.

Although this research was conducted in America, we can derive from it the kinds of progress achieved from 2001 to 2017. (Anon., 2017)[17] This has been exemplified by celebrities such as Anne Hathaway (who has a homosexual brother), Kerry Washington and even Brad Pitt who are known advocates of human rights being applicable for everyone, including the LGBT community. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Brad Pitt had donated $100,000 to the Human Rights campaign in 2012 and voiced his opinion on having to vote on people’s relationships, making the point that he found it a ludicrous concept. This empathy towards other people who might identify as strangers to him, demonstrates how people, including those who are well-off, feel it is their social obligations to help those in need. (Jang, 2015)[18].

This demonstrates people’s ability to be altruistic in that they actively participate in relevant issues that are conducting the world today. It is also important to note that these benevolent actions can encourage others to participate as well. People draw inspiration from celebrities and by them donating money or speaking on the behalf of a certain organisation, gives rise to more people educating themselves and taking part.

Views of human nature have helped shape politics such as traditional liberalism or conservatism and are still relevant in today’s society. Negative views of human nature had developed, mainly due to certain religious beliefs on the subject of the “original sin”, on which perceptions of human nature have been based on. These have prominently dominated political ideologies before the Enlightenment era, and have continued to do so to this day. The biggest advocate of negative human nature is undeniably conservatism which believes that at our core, we are “morally, intellectually and psychologically imperfect” (Heywood, 2012)[19].

This renders us incapable of any positive actions to another being. As altruism is fundamentally connected to morals and principles, according to conservative principles, we are too morally corrupt to think of the good of others, without there being some sort of motive behind it. These viewpoints continue to prevail in today’s politics under neoconservatism through the belief of public morality.

After the Enlightenment, Liberal ideas developed with contrasting views of humans and society.  Classical key thinkers such as John Locke or Jeremy Bentham argue that we are self-seeking, “utility maximisers” (Heywood, 2012)[20]. We seek to increase our pleasures by acting in a way that would only benefit us. We avoid pain as it doesn’t benefit us in anyway. This suggests that we are not capable of altruistic acts as helping others isn’t generally advantageous to individuals. Rather it would be inconvenient and troubling. They do believe in rationalism as advocated by John Stuart Mill who said “Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. This leads us to believe that humans are capable of rational thought such as when someone is in need of something.

These have further evolved into modern liberalism whom focus more on the positive aspects of human nature. As explained by Heywood, we are rational beings who realise that the good of the people directly correlates the good of the individual. It is important for people to recognise that the collective can benefit the individual as it provides support. Key thinkers such as T.H. Green argue that “without recognition of a common good underlying your relations with your fellow citizens, there could not be “intelligent co-operating subjects of law and custom”. People need to work together in order to establish a safe and stable society.

Green believed in the institution of welfare, through which the disadvantaged receive some sort of social and financial support due to the fact that they are unable to help themselves. He believed that those living comfortably have a social duty to look after those who didn’t or couldn’t have the same opportunities. He perceived that social support would benefit everyone as it created stable communities and prevented any upheaval against the state or social classes. This implies that although as individuals, we are capable and rational beings, we can only form a society with the help of our surroundings.

Aristotle explained this through his quote; “it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good or evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state”. (Colin, 2011)[21]

Socialism is entirely supportive of a positive perception of human nature. Their belief in common ownership and complete equality leads them to criticise the capitalist model of society that conservatism and liberalism support. This is on the grounds that we are a collective; society can only persist if there is cooperation between the individuals. Capitalism advocates the belief that humans need to rely on themselves and their innate capabilities.

On the other hand, socialism refutes this idea and instead upholds the idea that it is the state’s encouragement of a capitalist system that creates egoistical individuals. This is because in a competitive environment, humans feel obligated to act in a manner that is self-seeking as they see that capitalism pits individuals against each other. This is supported by the key thinker Richard Henry Tawney who claimed that “the disorders of capitalism derived from the absence of a “moral ideal” (Heywood, 2012)[22] Socialist believe the abolition of capitalism or the gradual reform from that economic system will allow people to revert back to their collective nature in which they consider the welfare of others.

The argument for the belief that we act altruistically from instinct is less popular than the one in which we seek some sort of pleasure from it. This could be economically or socially. An article on Psychologically Today on the “altruism instinct” explained that one advantage we benefit from is the idea that it improves our social reputations. In December 2015, The independent released an article titled “The 20 most generous people in the world”, featuring individuals such as Bill Gates for donating their money to important causes such as the improvement of education, sports, and the funding of medical research. (Martin, 2015) This shows great and support for institutions that benefit millions of people.

Although this act may appear selfless, it is arguable that they did benefit from their charitable acts as they improved their reputations. This is proved by the fact that they have gotten certain lists such as the one from the Independent. They are not only known for their amazing contributions to society but also for their sizable donations for respectable causes. (PHD, 2009)[23]

On the other hand, it has been argued that the urgency to help others is instinctive. People feel that sense of communitarianism and social responsibility. Psychology today, explains how a social experiment on 3 months old proved that as human beings we are instinctively wanting to help others. During this experiment, were shown a puppet trying to climb up a hill. Two other puppets arrived: one helping the first one up the hill and the second hindering it. When given the option to choose between these two puppets, even babies in their first months of life preferred the helpful puppets, suggesting that innately, humans simply like altruism more than selfishness.

The idea that these babies are capable of discerning between altruists and non-altruist leads us to believe that it is in fact instinctual. This is because in the case of 3-1 months old babies, they would be aware of social concepts such as reputation. They would also not be aware that helping others may results in them profiting from it. They have naturally concluded that the helpful puppets were the better choices.

There are many more occurrences that prove humans are altruistic beings. We recognise the distress people are in and feel encouraged to help them. This has been proven in the case of adults too as exemplified by the article released by The Business Insider titled “A national Guard soldier home for the holidays died trying to save people in the deadly Bronx fire” which relays the heroic act of Emmanuel Mensah who died of smoke inhalation after saving his family and 4 people, and failing save a 5th. This is an act of altruism as he risked his own life to save others with no gains as he ended up dying. (PHD, 2009)[24]

The argument for evolutionary altruism has been loosely based on the behaviours of animals. Some, such as wolves travel in packs which enables them to protect each other. This model has been applied to humans. We too have “packs”; there exists many communities such as the human race, religious or ethnic communities. We have slowly developed into more altruistic beings. This could be due to the way the world presently is; due to the opportunities and the state’s support for individuals through welfare. A research on “Sciencemag” revealed that we have adopted cooperative breeding which suggests that we are naturally accustomed to living in a cooperative manner. (Barter, 2014)[25]


This research has helped to evaluate the different arguments for and against the question: Are we predisposed to being altruistic or is it something we’ve learnt from society. The argument for altruism being biological seems to hold a lot of historical importance and also seems to improve our understanding of human nature. The idea that human nature stems from biological roots is a popular one although it is used for both positive and negative perceptions of it. Despite the fact that it is commonly believed that we are naturally self-seeking as we seek to maximise our pleasure and happiness, the idea that we are capable of helping others out of instinct is also commonly shared.


Through my research, I have been able to find and gather multiple sources and examples to create my for/against paragraphs. I believe all the information I have found is relevant to my topic and question. The one thing I could have realistically improve is to stick to my timetable and the deadlines set. If I had done so, I would have found it easier to incorporates everything in my argument. Whereas because I didn’t, I haven’t been able to include as much as I wanted to into my research. I couldn’t overcome this problem as I had to give in my 1st draft but I will try to not spread myself so thin when I submit my 2nd draft. I didn’t reach a clear-cut conclusion after my research as there are various opinions of the human capacity for altruism. I haven’t found experiments conducted that could reach the conclusion that it is a phenomenon found in humans from birth. I however have found many convincing arguments that each believe in altruism to a certain extent. If I had to do all over again, I would ensure that all my arguments are planned carefully and that I had stuck to the timetable.


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PHD, J. Z., 2009. The altruism instinct. [Online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-us/200911/the-altruism-instinctJhamil Zaki [Accessed 26 01 2018].

[1] Michel Bourdeau on ‘Auguste Comte’. Bourdeau did his research on linguistics before his interest of philosophy led him to Comte’s work. He later focused on the field of positivism, a concept he had developed. He has spoken in multiple symposiums and written many books on his theories and findings. His extensive background in psychology and philosophy makes him very reliable. The information mentioned in this discussion was found in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (SEP). It is a resource that assembles numerous papers and discussions from experts, for people to use during their research. It has received many grants from 2000 to 2007 and is constantly kept up to date. This makes the information used in this essay very reliable as it has come from a resource that demonstrates reliability.

[2] Cambridge Dictionary, definition of altruism, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/altruism. The dictionary is irrefutably reliable as it is a very public website, used by many people to be provided with definitions. It doesn’t necessarily provide facts that could in any way be biased and is a branch of the Cambridge University Press.

[3](Monroe, 1994). A Fat Lady in a Corset. JSTOR, 38(4), pp. 816-893.   While doing my research on the different views of altruism, I came across this book by Kristen Renwick Monroe on JSTOR which provided me with a lot of relevant information and an interesting perspective on the impact of altruism on an individual. Monroe is evidently very knowledgeable in the field of psychology and doesn’t seem to hold any bias which makes her work reliable. She is a professor of political science and philosophy and holds a PHD at the University of Chicago. She has won many awards such as the Goodnow Award and the Ithiel de Sola Pool awards; both won in 2010. She has written many other books on altruism and human nature which undeniably makes her an expert in this field.

[4] http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/2111-home/CD/TheoryClass/Bentham/Jeremy%20Bentham.htm. This website has provided information on Bentham’s beliefs, which is what made him a known key thinker of human nature. He is an individual that I have studied in my Politics lessons and someone I have always connected to the concept of altruism. It is an educational platform (‘edu’) which indicates that it is reliable and that it does present relevant and correct information. However, it doesn’t specify the author’s name which has made me question its value.

[5](Heywood, A., 2012) Political Ideologies. 5th ed. s.l.:Palgrave Macmillan. This is a textbook I have been using in my Government and Politics lessons and had some insight on the liberal view of altruism and how it changed over time. It is very reliable as it a resource that’s used in school to cover different political ideologies. It goes to show how different views of human nature are present in the sphere of politics. It has been as valuable resource which has taught me a lot about altruism and where the different attitudes towards stem from.



[8] Nature isa international journal of science which indicates that it is reliable as only relevant information with substantial evidence is displayed. I found this material very stimulating as it opened me up to other types of altruism which I found was highly appropriate for my research. All the details about the author was made available which proved that packer had a background in this field.

[9] Regal Srings, https://www.regalsprings.com/guide-to-conservation-by-wwf/. This is the official website for Regal Springs and Tilapia which indicates that all the information is directed to the public and is therefore quite trustworthy. A lot of facts are presented which I found quite useful for my research, especially concerning the “Fish for trees” project.

[10] Batson, The altruism question: toward a psychological answer. I found this source very reliable. Although I couldn’t access the entire of his work, I was able to find relevant and direct information from his book. Those are valuable as the author is quite knowledgeable in this field.

[11] Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/bystander-effect, I found the information about Kitty Genovese  and Bibb Latane and John Darley on the website which solely focuses on Psychology and its various topics such as the Bystander Effect which I wanted to include in my research. I find it to be reliable as it attention on psychology informs me that the content provides material who want to learn more. There are also the options to find counselling, get help and magazines on the website.

[12] Social Psychology’s Perspective on Prosocial Behaviour. This resource wasn’t as reliable as my other source as it didn’t appear very professional. There were no names or any information about the author on the website which makes me distrust its content. It did however, have a video of the experiment, proving is legitimacy.

[13] Philosopher King: A website dedicated to learning materials for Religious Studies and Philosophy on the levels of GCSE and A-Level for the following specifications; Edexcel IGCSE, OCR and AQA. It targets students and teachers as the information given can aid them prepare for exams. Though there wasn’t an author, Philosopher King is edited by Catherine Cox who was a Cambridge Theology graduate and the current Head of RS at The King’s School Canterbury. Her academic background suggests that this website is legitimate and provides up to A-Level knowledge of Religious Studies.

[14] The definition was taken from the website Oxford Dictionary which provides free access to largest resource of English dictionaries and thesaurus as well as tips on grammar, spelling and pronunciations. It is regularly updated and also has a media presence. This suggests its reliability as it keeps up with the current language and provides the correct and widely accepted meaning of a word.

[15] This quote was taken from the Bible Gateway website which provides multiple biblical verses and passages on various topics such as abstinence. It conducts many interface experiments that are related to the biblical understanding of certain topics. An example would be average year of text or the Popular Kids’ Bible stories. This websites is reliable as it provides accurate verses from the Bible.

[16] This information was taken from the Wikipedia page on the topic of Altruism, under the heading of Christianity. It refers to the Pauline phrase, said by St Paul, a prominent Apostle of the Apostolic Age. The phrase was taken from the Wikipedia Page on St Paul. This makes this information reliable as it is providing the insight and the expertise of many people who have focused on the topic of altruism. Wikipedia records the time when it was last edited, all the citations and includes a bibliography in alphabetical order, making it relatively easy to find any background/further information on the topic.

[17] Pew Forum is a resource which contains multiple fact banks regarding issues, attitudes and trends that are shaping up the world. One of its main benefits is that it conducts researches and polls on public opinion and attitude and analyses the media. They are ‘non-profit, non-partisan and non-advocacy and therefore operate with complete transparency and accuracy. They are subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts which is their primary funder. They are led by Michael Dimock who is a political scientist who received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California. He became president in 2015 and has continued to guide his team of 160 experts who work on their topics together.

[18] The Hollywood Reporter is a website, used by many people to receive more information about the lives of celebrities and certain current and prominent issues and a social media presence. Given the source of my research, the information found was accurate and reliable. It was written by Meena Jang, a contributor to The Hollywood Reporter.

[19] Andrew Heywood is a British author who has published many books and resources on politics, used by numerous schools across the world. He was vice-principal of Croydon College and did many years as a Chief examiner at A-Level. He currently works as a freelance and consultant. Through his book, relevant information was found to support the points of research. It is a very accessible resource and understanding but sophisticated language which conveys the reliability of the book.

[20] Andrew Heywood is a British author who has published many books and resources on politics, used by numerous schools across the world. He was vice-principal of Croydon College and did many years as a Chief examiner at A-Level. He currently works as a freelance and consultant. Through his book, relevant information was found to support the points of research. It is a very accessible resource and understanding but sophisticated language which conveys the reliability of the book.

[21] The information mentioned in this discussion was found in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (SEP). It is a resource that assembles numerous papers and discussions from experts, for people to use during their research. It has received many grants from 2000 to 2007 and is constantly kept up to date. This makes the information used in this essay very reliable as it has come from a resource that demonstrates reliability. Colin Tyler is a professor of Social and Political thought at the University of Hull in the UK. His research focuses on common goods politics, critical economy power and the process of the creation of selves. He has written more than 50 books, articles and book chapters. This renders his works very reliable due to his extensive background in politics.

[22] Andrew Heywood is a British author who has published many books and resources on politics, used by numerous schools across the world. He was vice-principal of Croydon College and did many years as a Chief examiner at A-Level. He currently works as a freelance and consultant. Through his book, relevant information was found to support the points of research. It is a very accessible resource and understanding but sophisticated language which conveys the reliability of the book.

[23] Psychology Today has assembled a number of psychology experts to contribute their researches and conclusions to an open resource which students and teachers can use. It also provides a directory of therapists for people to use. The writer of this article, Jamil Zaki was a Postdoctoral at Harvard University. He is now a professor at the Psychology Department at Stanford. His academic background chows that his work was researched extensively.

[24] Psychology Today has assembled a number of psychology experts to contribute their researches and conclusions to an open resource which students and teachers can use. It also provides a directory of therapists for people to use. The writer of this article, Jamil Zaki was a Postdoctoral at Harvard University. He is now a professor at the Psychology Department at Stanford. His academic background chows that his work was researched extensively.

[25] The Science Mag has extensive articles on various scientific topics and does subscriptions


Title or working title of project (in the form of a question)

Are people born with the preconceived instinct to help others out of altruism or do they learn it from society?

Project objectives (eg, what is the question you want to answer? What do you want to learn how to do? What do you want to find out?):

My primary objective is to find out where the desire to helps others stems from. More specifically I want to find a conclusion to whether people are born with the capacity to empathise and the desire to provide assistance for others or whether they learn it from their social environment and surroundings as they grow up.

In this dissertation, I want to learn how to identify certain behaviours such as the Bystander Effect, popularised by Bibb Latane and John Darley, which occurs when “the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation”. This will allow me to grasp a better understanding of psychology and the social learning theory; which is the view that people learn from each other, as I will explore key concepts and keywords which will then permit me to structure my own educated opinion on this subject. Perceptions of human nature influence people on different levels; from how parents raise their children to political ideologies. How far are their judgment of people accurate? How much do they affect other people?

Furthermore, I want to investigate the views of both experts in psychology and people without  any backgrounds in psychology and analyse how far their understanding of the human behaviour is influenced by their academic and social backgrounds. My interest stems from the fact that it is a subject that I intend to study at university. 

In order to come to a conclusion, I will research many sources in my personal environment to support my arguments. This will help me assess how individuals react under certain circumstances and if any actions are influenced by any factors such as age, ethnicity or gender.  

If it is a group project, what will your responsibilities be?

I will be working independently.

Section Two: Reasons for choosing this project
Reasons for choosing the project (eg, links to other subjects you are studying, personal interest, future plans, knowledge/skills you want to improve, why the topic is important):

As an aspiring lawyer, I have always had the urge to want to help people and do more for our community. I find it very hard to do so considering my current situation, being only 17 and still at school,but intend to more in the future. I have met many people of various backgrounds who’ve shared my sense of heroism and this intrigued me enough to want to do research on this topic. It intrigued me to know if it was a sentiment felt by everyone and if so if it is repressed rather than exploited. I have found from different sources certain information such as what motivates people to help, that I deemed quite stimulating. This is an important topic to be discussed, especially due to current world affairs and the consequences they have on our politics and our behaviours towards them. There are a number of issues that could be discussed, the most one prominent being the rise in immigration in 2015 and the reactions towards it; did people want to help, or were they indifferent?

While studying Government and Politics, many concepts and ideologies have showed a link such as the modern liberalist view that individuals are part of a collective and in order to look after themselves, they need to look after others too, expressed in Jean Jacque Rousseau’s concept of the “general will”, and the view that in order to flourish, selflessness is needed, a notion expressed in an article in the Guardian “Forget cut-throat competition: to survive, try a little selflessness”. I recognize that these are ideologies, theories and don’t present any piece of evidence and rather beliefs but in this dissertation I intend to find scientific explanations to explain heroism and altruism. There is without a doubt a link between this hypothesis  and the world of science as many scientists justify certain unethical projects to be for the greater good such as brain sampling or womb swapping. These experiments are considered to be unethical, but would allow scientists to understand the human body further which could contribute to curing certain diseases.

Through my understanding of English literature, I am able to include works of fictional and nonfictional arts to discern how society perceived heroes and infer how they were influenced by their time and their setting. People often react in a positive manner with entities such as heroes. This is currently seen through various modern books and movies, the biggest platforms for exhibiting heroes of all shapes and sizes. It would be highly relevant to research the attitudes towards them as they could be applied to everyday lives. The view that “heroes” do good and are necessary could drive people to become one.


Section Three: Activities and timescales
Activities to be carried out during the project (eg, research, analysis, writing, preparing for the presentation, etc): How long this will take:

Write my Project Proposal Form first draft

Write My Project Proposal Form final draft

Write my activity log ( Complete fortnightly )

Research my topic and take notes

Write my Literature Review first draft (including headings, paragraphs, font size 12, footnotes  and references.) (2000-3000 words)

Proofread and check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, formal writing style.

Hand in

Milestone One

First draft of Literature Review

Redraft my Literature Review taking into account of marking (including headings, paragraphs, font size 12, footnotes and references.)

Write my discussion. (Including headings, paragraphs, font size 12, footnotes and references.) (2000-3000 words)

Proofread and check for: spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, formal writing style

Hand in

First draft of discussion

Write my introduction (200-500 words)

Write my conclusion (200-500 words)

Write my bibliography

Write my evaluation (200-400 words)

Write my abstract (200 words)

Proofread and check for spellings, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, formal writing writing style, headings, page numbers, footnotes and references.

Hand in First draft of whole project

Milestone two

Redraft project

Hand in final and complete draft of project

Plan and prepare for Presentation, which will take place during:

Midnight 24th Sept 2017

Midnight 29th October



Midnight 20th November

Midnight 29th November

Midnight 3rd December

Midnight 23rd December

Midnight 21st January 2018

Midnight 25th January

Midnight 28th January

Midnight 4th February

Midnight 11th February

Midnight 18th February

Midnight 25th February

Midnight 2nd March

Midnight 3rd March

Midnight 6th March 2018

Midnight 21st March 2018

Midnight 21st April 2018

Midnight 22nd April 2018


Section Four: Resources
What resources will you need for your research, write up and presentation (eg, libraries, books, journals, equipment):

In order to do my research, I will most prominently be using the Internet as it is a platform that will give me a more broad area to cover. I will be using tools such as Google Scholar or Google Books to research works from writers such as Kristen Renwick Monroe and her ‘A Fat Lady in a Corset’. I will also research journalists such as martin at the ‘Independent’ and professeurs specialising in specific areas such as the Bystander Effect or the link between morality and biological evolution, which would be highly beneficial for my investigation. Another tool I would be using is websites such as Thesaurus, which will help me improve my vocabulary and my formal writing style.

I will utilise libraries close to me which provide a range of resources such as researches and works such as “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, that I can use in my dissertation. I will use books such as ‘A political ideology’ by Heywood, from our school library and my teachers to understand them. I may not use all the informations in the works but I will utilise all the relevant facts that I find.

In terms of visual resources, certain documentaries or films such as “What makes a Hero” by BBC News may assist me in forming my own opinion and influence my conclusion. I will be asking some teachers to answer some question so that I can get a second opinion other than the ones from people I am not familiar with. I would like to include a psychologist’s opinion on human nature/behaviour as they’ve completed extensive research and their views are definitely enlightened.

To record my progress and my findings as a dissertation, I will be using Microsoft Word with a size 11 font in Trebuchet MS. I will also be using Powerpoint to create a presentation on the topic of Altruism and Heroism using all my findings to present to my class.

What your areas of research will cover?

My areas of research will cover different views of heroism and altruism and how they were influenced in regards to gender, economic background, ethnic backgrounds and age. For example I intend to research whether individuals with wealthy backgrounds feel more the need to help others than a person with a poorer background. I can find this out by researching whether the wealthy partake in charity. The article ‘Wealthy people give to charity for different reasons than us’ written by Daisy Grewal provides some insight into this question.I will also gather relevant investigations that have been previously done on all these topics  such as ‘The Altruism Question’ by Batson and will include them in my dissertation. I understand that many factors affect the way humans behave and therefore I will need to research each one and reach a conclusion; which one has more influence? do factors such as gender and age matter in feeling altruistic?

Political ideologies that are used to run governments and therefore countries will be included to see how they’ve shaped the world we currently live in. I have been studying Government and Politics and through my education, I have learnt some background information on what certain ideologies think of human nature. For example, liberals believe we are self-interested with potential for human development, Conservatives believe we are morally,psychologically and intellectually limited and must therefore rely on authority and tradition while socialists, who appear to be the most sympathetic to the belief in altruism, believe humans are social creatures who only thrive when working as a collective. I have received all this information from the books ‘A political ideology’ by Heywood and the Edexcel ‘Government and Politics for A2’ by Neil McNaughton.

I find it important to investigate to what extent religion plays a part on how people behave themselves around others and whether they help out of empathy or on a religious moral ground. These will allow me to achieve my objective of finding out different perceptions of altruism and the divergent roots. I realise I cannot investigate all religions, therefore I pick the most dominant ones: Christianism and Islamism. Religion is an aspect of life that drives people in their actions. It will be useful to research the religious justification behind their attitudes towards altruism. For example I will question to what extent the Original Sin as told in the Old Testament, continues to affect people’s views of human nature.

On the other hand, I want to find out whether there is a scientific explanation for the instinct to help that so many people have manifested and if it is biological in any way. This can be done through reading certain scientific works that focus particularly on altruism and heroism. I will also find works from experts who can give a more psychological angle to my dissertation and utilise several of their conclusions to write mine. I will find this information on websites such as ‘PsychologyToday’. I realise that I may not come to a concrete conclusion as the extent of research can only go so far, especially about human nature. I do intend to investigate as much as I can however.


What difficulties do you think you may encounter? How might you overcome them?

One of the first problems I am most likely to encounter is the search for relevant sources. These can be found on the Internet and in many books or studies. Many of those will have a very formal writing style and can be very difficult to understand sometimes. Others, might prove to be unusable as they may not relate to the direction of my research. To help me get over this obstacle I will ask my teachers to help me understand certain key terms and I could make use of the internet to search the meaning of complex words. I want to make sure that I have interpreted their meaning correctly and can use their findings to shape my own investigation.

Linking to researches, I want to make sure I do not accidentally and unknowingly plagiarize anyone’s work and find a way to formulate my work using my own words. This could be difficult if I cannot understand the meaning of the studies and end up interpreting them in an incorrect way. This would modify the work and discredit the author. One way not to encounter such a problem is to take the time to go over my work regularly, check that it corresponds to what I want to say and enlist the help of teachers to proofread.

Another difficulty would be keeping up with my work as I currently am an A-level student with a plethora of work both inside and outside of school. Therefore I would have to follow my timescales very strictly and allow myself some time to fall back on in the case that I am unable to complete a part of my work before the deadlines I set myself. This will allow me to stick to the timescales. I should safeguard all my work attentively so I don’t lose anything and fall behind which would hinder me substantially as I would have a very hard catching up and could end us losing some very relevant work.

Proposed project title Are people born with the preconceived instinct to help others out of altruism or did they learn it from society?  

This form should be used to record the process of your project and be submitted as evidence with the final piece of work.

You may want to discuss:

  • what you have done (eg, from one week to the next)
  • if you are working in a group, what discussions you have had
  • any changes that you have or will need to make to your plans
  • what resources you have found or hope to find
  • what problems you are encountering and how you are solving them
  • what you are going to do next
Date Comments


Today was my first Extended Project lesson and my plan for the hour was to focus on deciding the topic for my question and possibly word it as a first draft. I was able to do so and also decided on my subtopics.
 14/09/2017 I have done some research on the topic of Altruism and Heroism and managed to word a proper question: Are people born with the preconceived instinct to help others out of altruism or did they learn it from society?. I started my Project Proposal Form and completed almost half of it.
 21/09/2017 One problem I have encountered so far is my lack of knowledge in the field of psychology. To solve this problem, I have decided to start with studying the A-level books on psychology, to grasp an overview of the subject. I have also handed in my first draft of my Project Proposal Form.


While waiting for the first draft of my Project proposal Form to be returned, I have started writing up my Literature review. I have done some research on the internet and referenced any information I have found using footnotes.
12/11/17 I have continued doing research for my literature Review and have started to think about what my subtopics would be as it would make it easier to organise my dissertation.
26/11/17 For the last two weeks I have been working on the final draft of my Project Proposal Form. I found that one of the main problems I had was being too vague. I had to remind myself that I had to explain certain points with more details and add examples. I have also continued writing my Literature Review. I have divided it into specific topics such as economic altruism and typed up all the information I found on it.
3/12/17 I have continued writing my Literature Review although I was unable to hand it in before the deadline. I have been allowed an extra day to hand it in and I have made sure that I’ve cited and and made footnotes of all my references. I have evaluated them carefully by doing research on the type of information and where it came from. I have also analysed whether I thought it was biased or not.
21/12/17 While waiting for my Literature Review to be marked, I have started writing my Discussion. I have gone through multiple exemplar projects and the ‘discussion section on the Google classroom and found out what need to be done. I have copied and paste the instructions on my google doc to refer to when necessary.
28/12/17 While writing my discussion, I have found it hard to start it as I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to use all the evidence I had found in my Literature review. I have written the first paragraph on where it first emerged and who first named it altruism. However, due to being on holiday, I haven’t been able to do much work which has set me back on my work.
04/01/18 During the holiday, I have attempted to read over my work to see if there were any topics I needed to revisit I received my Literature Review back. I have found that there were multiple grammatical errors that could have been easily avoided, had I paid more attention to my work. Although i haven’t been able to finish all the corrections, I have been able to go through a lot of my work.
18/01/18 I have started writing my discussion on the topic of altruism. I have tried planning my paragraphs and the for/against arguments that I would have.
01/02/18 After receiving our literature Reviews back, I had noticed that I needed to work on my evaluation of the source as I had neglected to complete them. i found this hard to do as going back to the sources after such a long time made the content confusing. For example, going over my review of Monroe’s “A fat Lady in a Corset”, was challenging due to the sophisticated language and the complicated information.
08/02/18 I have found that a second draft for my Literary Review would have been beneficial as I would have gotten more feedback on how to improve it. Going through all my sources and analysing and evaluating the author’s’ credentials has proven to be more difficult than I had imagined. This is because some of the sources had very little on the writers and it was hard to discern whether their work was reliable or not.I have continued to work on my discussion, starting with the topics of traditional and modern views of human nature and altruism in the liberal ideology.
22/02/18 So far, I have written about the traditional/modern liberal views of whether altruism was possible in humans, the religious aspect of it and the psychological and evolutionary arguments that explain altruism. Through my research, I have found some examples that exhibit the altruistic trait in people. An example would be Emmanuel Mensah who performed an heroic act by jumping into a fire to save the lives of others. I haven’t been able to do my evaluations and might not be able to complete them by the deadline.
26/02/18 I have received my Discussion back today. Like I had predicted, I hadn’t been able to finish my evaluations which caused me to lose a lot of marks. The person who marked my discussion gave me a lot of helpful remarks and suggestions on what I should include. However, seeing as the deadline for the 1st draft with everything included is this Sunday. I doubt I will have been able to finish everything on time, especially because I will be working this weekend.
04/03/18 The 1st draft of my project was due today but as I haven’t been able to finish it on time, I have asked my teacher if I could receive an extension to finish it properly.
19/04/18 I have received my 1st draft back and have been working on improving it so I can reach high marks for the 2nd drafts. I have found that I needed to include more examples and be more concise with my arguments. I have also needed to improve my abstract, introduction and my evaluation as they were too brief and had little details.

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