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Under which conditions are human beings most likely to be altruistically motivated?

by toonalfrink1 min read1st Jun 20205 comments


World Modeling

If I was hungry, I'd be more likely to steal food. If I had pent up anger, I'd be more likely to lash out. If I was rewarded for outcompeting my peers, I'd be more likely to cut moral corners. These things are fairly evident, but how can we generalise them to a comprehensive theory of human cooperation?

I'm not asking about a formal, game-theoretic answer per se. Though we can (should) certainly apply those insights, I'm looking for something about actual humans with actual human motivations. Something one could use to inform their decisions on structuring incentive structures on a variety of scales. How can we even begin answering this question? What concepts, apart from the ones I've already mentioned, could be part of the answer?

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Intelligence is highly correlated with altruism. This study proposes that it has to do with the fact that intelligent people can afford to lose some resources:

The cost incurred by engaging in unconditional altruism is lower for highly intelligent people than for less intelligent people because they may expect to regain the drained resources. As a result, unconditional altruism can serve as an honest signal of intelligence.

So maybe altruism is just a way of showing off how many resources you can donate without taking a hit and thus having/being able to generate lots of resources makes people more altruistically motivated.