Humans may be hardwired for compassion, new book says


Social science has long held that humans have a selfish streak – that if you probe deeply enough into our motivations, self-interest guides everything we do. But a new book, edited by University of Michigan adjunct research assistant professor Stephanie Brown, along with  Pacific Lutheran University psychology professor Mike Brown and Karmanos Cancer Institute senior scientist Louis Penner, challenges that idea.

In Moving Beyond Self Interest: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology, Neuroscience, and the Social Sciences (2011, Oxford University Press), Brown, Brown and Penner combine evidence from their respective disciplines that points toward a genuinely altruistic drive to help others.

“For most of the twentieth century, social scientists resisted any attempts to think about human beings in evolutionary terms, out of fear that we’d discover terrible things about our selfish natures,” said reviewer Douglas T. Kenrick, Arizona State University psychology professor, and author of Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life. “But a new wave of biologically based research has demonstrated that we are intricately designed to care about other people. Moving Beyond Self-Interest is an impressive and thought-provoking volume.”

One of the downstream products of the CARSS-sponsored Developing Alternatives to Self Interest project, the book pushes the boundaries of social science by considering human motivation through the lens of neuroscience and evolutionary biology.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to David Featherman, Douglas Pritchett, Jennifer Crocker, and the CARSS initiative at the University of Michigan for providing support to our broad topic of “human nature,”’ said Stephanie Brown. “…(That support) enabled a critical step in achieving a better scientific understanding of social problems that depend on human cooperation and concern for others.”