Are We Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?

(Time) Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?

By MAIA SZALAVITZ | @maiasz | October 8, 2012

Human inclinations are not primarily selfish: kindness and altruism have been evolutionarily valued in mates, and even the youngest children often try to be helpful

Did selfishness — or sharing — drive human evolution? Evolutionary theorists have traditionally focused on competition and the ruthlessness of natural selection, but often they have failed to consider a critical fact: that humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and social reciprocity of a group.

Last week on Slate, evolutionary anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson explored the question against the backdrop of two cultural events in 1957 — the consequences of the rogue, selfish activities of a pygmy hunter in a Congo forest, who used the group’s collective hunting efforts to benefit only himself, and in New York City, the publication of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, whose protagonist champions the author’s notion that human nature is fundamentally selfish and that each man “exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”

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Also see Does Being Powerful, Intoxicated or Anonymous Break Down Your Inhibitions?Why Is There No Looting in Japan?Can Being Altruistic Make You Attractive?Is This Why All of Us Will Cheat? and Why Don’t Fertile Women Want George Clooney?

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