Pathological Altruism—An Introduction

Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo and Michael McGrath

in Pathological Altruism

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738571
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918669 | DOI:
Pathological Altruism—An Introduction

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Many harmful deeds—from codependency to suicide martyrdom to genocide—are committed with the altruistic intention of helping companions or one’s own in-group. Thus, it is worthwhile to study how well-meaning altruism can shade into pathology. In essence, pathological altruism might be thought of as any behavior or personal tendency in which either the stated aim or the implied motivation is to promote the welfare of another. But instead of overall beneficial outcomes, this altruism instead has irrational (from the point of view of an outside observer) and substantial negative consequences to the other or even to the self. This introductory chapter provides a broad perspective that presents psychological, neuropsychological, biological, and evolutionary approaches that help account for pathologically altruistic behavior, and goes on to discuss its diverse and profound societal implications. The result is a nuanced counterbalance to the study of altruism and a call for further research.

Keywords: pathological altruism; behavior; biology; genetics; evolution

Chapter.  3260 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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