Survival of the Kindest

Photo by lmnop88a

According to a recent article, there’s scientific reason to believe that human beings may have evolved from the inherently selfish beings of the past (think philosophies of Darwin and Hobbes), into inherently caring and compassionate beings.  In fact, UC Berkeley psychologist, Dacher Keltner, pinpoints altruism as the precise reason why we are a successful species. The article even goes so far as to say:

This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct”

Some of our great-grandparents could have actually said, “back when competition was the most basic human instinct…”

Here are a few of the many basic points from the article from Science Daily.  Again, be sure to check it out for more in-depth information:

  • Our brain secretes oxytocin (“the cuddle hormone”) which promotes social interaction and compassion. “The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” the article reads.
  • In psychological games, studies have found that the more players gave to the “public good,” the more respect they received– and those who acted in their own self-interest during these studies were shunned.
  • Parents raising socially conscious kids (by teaching gratitude and generosity), find their children become more resilient (there’s an echo of the survival of the fittest).

This is more than just good news for nice guys who are sick of finishing last (and probably haven’t been finishing last for a long while). If we are physically evolving into more caring beings, then our way of life is and has been  evolving with us. I believe it’s hard to say how culturally different we would be if we were still producing low levels of oxytocin.

But these studies and the possibility that we are evolving to the benefit of the public good make me excited (if only for this moment) about our growth. Though perhaps a stretch, I like to believe that the inclination for social change will continue to thrive and mature with my children and grandchildren.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous 4 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

4 Responses to Survival of the Kindest

  1. Lance

    Hi Colleen,
    I love the message here, and believe wholeheartedly in the beauty and power behind compassion. When we can connect with each other in deeply meaningful ways, wow! We have teh ability to touch lives, and that IS such a great thing.

    • colleendilen

      Thanks so much for the comment! I absolutely agree with you, Lance. This new science is inspiring in a lot of ways! It makes me very hopeful and excited.

  2. ray sun

    great post, love reading about stuff like this. scientists have been examining evolutionary explanations for altruistic behavior since at least the 60s (see george williams, richard dawkins) and it is cool to see that we are starting to flesh out its mechanisms

  3. JR Moreau

    It’s funny that you wrote about this… I think about it a lot.

    I was raised Catholic and really believe in a lot of the moral lessons I learned from Christianity. However, for all intents and purposes, I am not an Atheist.

    Lots of people ask me what the point of living is and why I don’t go around doing horrible things if I don’t believe in god or consequences beyond this life…

    I really just believe that the good feelings that come from doing good unto others and the knowledge that I’m spreading positive energy is enough to make me compassionate and want to do the right thing.

    I’m just a monkey who wants a hug, like the ones in that picture!


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