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Is there a biological basis for helping people?

  1. Dec 13, 2009 #1
    A few mornings ago, I helped a young woman with her car (dead battery), which made me late for work. Which brought some negative consequences to me. Yet I would do the same thing again just to help.

    With no benefit to me, but with negative consequences, I felt good for helping someone in need. How would a biologist explain this behavior?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2009 #2
  4. Dec 13, 2009 #3
    Thank you.
  5. Dec 14, 2009 #4
    The attachment says: "The deepest and most primitive level of empathy is emotional contagion, the tendency to automatically resonate with other human beings by mimicking their facial expressions, vocal sounds, and bodily movements."

    What does this imply for those that would not stop for the battery-deficient motorest? Are they lacking something in their deepest regions? Are they missing the 'signals' sent by other human beings that would resonate? Would the act of not stopping (poor syntax there :blushing:) be a biological, as in innate response or a learned action?

    I guess this is the opposite of the question - is there a biological bases for being a jerk?
  6. Dec 14, 2009 #5
    Well, this is a good question, there are people in the world who are 'psychotic' and they have no emotional connection to the world. This accounts for a very small percentage of humans (something liek 1% of total population). I think that when a person drives by and sees a person in distress they don't 'feel nothing' because they didn't decide to stop. I am certain they still 'feel' towards that person they only decided to continue because what they had to do was more important to them.

    The other day my Aunts care broke down in the middle of a really busy road just at the intersection, her battery had died. So she had no 4 ways or anything, she was sstanding on the side of the road crying and no one stopped to make sure she was ok or offered her some help. Everyone just drove by, and when I say everyone I mean everyone, I had to go and push her car from the middle of the road over to a gas station. It kind of pissed me off that no one would help but I can't say that no one was empathetic towards our situation.

    It's important to note that these feelings are innate to humans however the reactions to the feelings are learnt behaviour at a very young age. So it's is completely possible that those who do not help just do not know that they probably should help. The OP clearly grrew up in a very respectable family who valued helping others in their times of need. I guess this because he describes the good feeling he gets regardless of the negative consequences he receives for helping a person.
  7. Dec 20, 2009 #6
    Eh, not really. My family has been very unhealthy for me. For example, I'm the only one here who isn't racist. So, I'm in that odd position of trying to understand good deeds. Hence my post.
  8. Dec 20, 2009 #7
    Well done to you, Newai - to overcome an irrational position that was apparently laid upon you through nurture. I guess that open another question in this thread of, is helping people (or not helping people) connect to racism? I have known people holding what I considered racist views against blacks, Muslims and Jews (gays as well - but is that racist?) that have been willing to help all manner of others.

    I do not have immediate access to these reports - but I am sure most people have seen stories of animals coming to the aid of their peers: elephants helping elephants, dolphins helping dolphins, great apes - great apes and whales, whales. If these are not old wives tales or urban myths, they would indicate that these beasts share with us some sophisticated motivations.

    I fear this does not forward us in the quest for an answer to your question - you seem to cast a negative light on the nurture explanation, what is left is nature. As you ask, a biological reason.
  9. Dec 21, 2009 #8
    I do? I only meant that good nurturing was not present in my upbringing.
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