We Are Wired to Be Kind: How Evolution Gave Us Empathy, Compassion & Gratitude

Empa­thy, com­pas­sion and grat­i­tude — these traits don’t usu­al­ly spring to mind when you think about Dar­win­ism and nat­ur­al selec­tion. No, your mind more imme­di­ate­ly drifts toward anti-social char­ac­ter­is­tics like com­pe­ti­tion, sur­vival of the fittest, and self­ish­ness (as in the “self­ish gene”). But above, on the first day of 2015, UC Berke­ley psy­chol­o­gist Dacher Kelt­ner reminds us that evo­lu­tion can bring out the best in us, and Dar­win rec­og­nized that. As Dar­win wrote in The Descent of Man, the strength­en­ing of our capac­i­ty for “sym­pa­thy” played a cen­tral role in human evo­lu­tion:

With mankind, self­ish­ness, expe­ri­ence, and imi­ta­tion, prob­a­bly add .… to the pow­er of sym­pa­thy; for we are led by the hope of receiv­ing good in return to per­form acts of sym­pa­thet­ic kind­ness to oth­ers; and sym­pa­thy is much strength­ened by habit. In how­ev­er com­plex a man­ner this feel­ing may have orig­i­nat­ed, as it is one of high impor­tance to all those ani­mals which aid and defend one anoth­er, it will have been increased through nat­ur­al selec­tion; for those com­mu­ni­ties, which includ­ed the great­est num­ber of the most sym­pa­thet­ic mem­bers, would flour­ish best, and rear the great­est num­ber of off­spring.

That’s not to say that we don’t have a dual nature — a capac­i­ty for being unsym­pa­thet­ic, self­ish, pow­er hun­gry. That’s some­thing Kelt­ner stud­ies too, and, indeed a while back, we told you about his stud­ies show­ing that the wealthy tend to be less sym­pa­thet­ic and giv­ing than the poor. You can find cours­es taught by Kelt­ner on Human Emo­tion and Human Hap­pi­ness in our col­lec­tion of Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

via Devour

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