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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Evolutionary psychology: Police just as good as church in promoting socially helpful behavior -researchers

At MSNBC, Robin Lloyd advises,"Religion not the only path to altruism." He is reporting on research showing that religious people give more to charity. According to a recent review essay by University of British Columbia social psychologist Ara Norenzayan and graduate student Azim Shariff,
Religion and its promotion of empathy get undue credit for our unselfish acts. Instead, it’s our less-than-virtuous psychological perception that a moral authority is watching us that promotes altruism, a new review essay suggests.
They reevaluated many studies and "found little or no evidence that empathy plays any role in religious prosociality."

Humans are evolved to be acutely sensitive to our reputations as do-gooders in our social groups because this promotes strong cooperative bonds that help the species. This psychological mechanism was originally unrelated to religion, the authors write in the Oct. 3 issue of the journal Science.

The review also shoots down the idea that religion is necessary to make people choose to engage in altruistic behavior — or do something that benefits others at your own personal expense. Religion has no monopoly on good behavior today, Norenzayan said.

In fact, the courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities can serve the same purpose nowadays, encouraging proscial behavior among large groups of strangers.

Note the staggering implication: Police, cameras and credit records are required to get the non-religious to do things that the religious do willingly? Surely, it is not qute as bad as that.

A friend writes,
The piece totally misses the point if it thinks that forced "giving" is altruism. Giving motivated by "courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities" is not giving and not altruism. It is done for self-interest.
Yes, but keep in mind that evolutionary psychology, in which this current research is rooted, denies that anyone ever acts except in self-interest - driven by their selfish genes.

There seems to be a constant need to discredit the voluntary charity and empathy of religiously motivated people, a need typefied by this research. It's not hard to see why. Charity and empathy demonstrates that the key assumption behind the research is false.

See also: Neuroscience: News flash, sort of ... people would rather give to charity than pay taxes

Research that tells you something you already knew: Givers are happier

Altruism - it's all about sexual display, see?

Humanity's hopeful sign: Disaster causes outpouring of charity in China

Altruism: Why it can't really exist but why it does anyway

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