A question for one of our resident psychology buffs.

Maragon
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A question for one of our resident psychology buffs.

Now, I've only done a year of psychology at a University level, so I may be completely off base here, but I seem to re-call a concept about the selfish nature of a person. Essentially, everything that a person does, whether the motive is readily and easily seen or not - would still have some psychological benefit for the person.

Ie, when a person gives to charity, it may seem selfless, but really they're making themselves feel good, so it has a motivation.

 

Am I way off, or do I have something applicable here?

 

Thanks in advance for any help. 


Textom
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The brain has a

The brain has a reward/punishment system that kicks in for certain behaviors and situations.  It gooses you with endorphins (which make you feel good) when you do some things, and with stress hormones when you do certian other things.

So it is possible to pick out examples of this kind of selfish altruism--you give to charity because it gives you an endorphin shot, for instance.

But any time you're talking about mammals in general (and social primates in particular) it gets a lot more complicated than a simple reward/punishment scheme.  This is what evolutionary psychology is all about: it starts from the assumption that your brain rewards you for behaviors that contribute to survival and effecient reproduction.  Many of those behaviors are altruistic (because cooperation increases survival odds) but many of them are selfish too. 

For example, cheating on your spouse occasionally is a reproductively "smart" thing to do, because you get a better gene distribution in your offspring without giving up the security of the long term relationship.  A study they did in England shows women (at least) enjoy sex more when they're cheating, so that fits with what the theory predicts.

But humans are able to override the reward/punishment system to a large extent, which you know if you've ever stayed in a job you hated for years and years (or resisted an opportunity to cheat on your mate).  Humans can also cheat the system with drugs or other altered states of consciousness.  And there are some things that don't seem to use the reward/punishment system at all--like the way people will tend to rush into a burning building to save someone without thinking.

So I'm not sure if I've answered the question, except to say that while "selfishness" is a factor in human behavior, I don't think it's accurate to say that all behavior is motivated by selfishness in this sense.

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You talking about if people

You talking about if people are really altruistic or do they do things for some type of positive reinforcement. For example if I give to charity I feel good about myself that I am a good citizen. I am therefore reinforced for this behavior. There have been studies done in this area and some suggest that there actually is altruism in human nature. Theses studies attempted to control for any types of reinforcement. However, there is only so much you can control for. In some way there is always some type of reinforcement, weather positive or negative, with any behavior. For lay people the reinforcement is any consequence that increases a behavior. Positive reinforcement is the presence of a pleasurable or enjoyable consequence, where negative reinforcement is the removal of an aversive consequence/stimulus.

 Although I think there is no such thing as true altruism, this is still a debate amongst social psychologists.

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When people do moral or

When people do moral or altruistic acts areas in the most primitive part of the brain show stimulation.

http://www.kansas.com/188/story/82098.html

This reveals what Atheists have been saying for quite some time, that we, as social animals, survived by taking care of others and moral behavior is rooted in our genes through evolution.  Going with our basic nature does stimulate our reward area of the brain and rejects any cognitive dissonance experienced with going against our basic nature.

Naturally there are selfish people as anyone can overcome our basic instincts, or some may just be wired differently.  Those who are absolutely selfish tend to have lower reproductive success and get weeded out of the gene pool. 

There is always the debate on how much nuture outweighs nature and all that.  However, according to the research we have a basic nature to do good contrary to what religious groups may say.  The old addage goes, good people do good things, bad people do bad things, religion makes good people do bad things.  I wouldn't be surprised to see fundamentalists triggering their reward center of the brain for performing religious inspired hatred and harming others seeing how the brain rewires itself quite often.


Brian37
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D-cubed wrote: When people

D-cubed wrote:

When people do moral or altruistic acts areas in the most primitive part of the brain show stimulation.

http://www.kansas.com/188/story/82098.html

This reveals what Atheists have been saying for quite some time, that we, as social animals, survived by taking care of others and moral behavior is rooted in our genes through evolution. Going with our basic nature does stimulate our reward area of the brain and rejects any cognitive dissonance experienced with going against our basic nature.

Naturally there are selfish people as anyone can overcome our basic instincts, or some may just be wired differently. Those who are absolutely selfish tend to have lower reproductive success and get weeded out of the gene pool.

There is always the debate on how much nuture outweighs nature and all that. However, according to the research we have a basic nature to do good contrary to what religious groups may say. The old addage goes, good people do good things, bad people do bad things, religion makes good people do bad things. I wouldn't be surprised to see fundamentalists triggering their reward center of the brain for performing religious inspired hatred and harming others seeing how the brain rewires itself quite often.

Oh come on now, what's wrong with inventing a super hero in the sky who "poof" hands us down our morality? 

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Brian37 wrote: Oh come on

Brian37 wrote:

Oh come on now, what's wrong with inventing a super hero in the sky who "poof" hands us down our morality?

That'd be okay if he had a cool outfit.  Somehow robes and sandals is just a lame superhero outfit.  I demand spandex and a cape is always a bonus. 


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I believe that your initial

I believe that your initial impression is true, but I wouldn't necessarily put it that way. Our brains have been "hard-wired" over generations and generations to induce pleasurable feelings in many different situations. To label that as "selfish" seems far too simplistic to me and also has the side-effect of almost maligning altruism as just another self-serving ego trip.

Ultimately, just about anybody's altruism has limits, and the term that I prefer is reciprocal altruism. You help somebody that you believe (or have no reason not to believe) will help you. In general, our brains cause us to have good feelings in response to our actions, but there are many times that it might not, and people still continue to do things to help others for many reasons.

It has been beneficial for the human race to band together into groups for the ultimate survival of everyone and so the brain has been formed in that model. It's like having sex--totally necessary for survival of the species, but also pleasurable. The pleasure that you experience (due to millenia of evolution) doesn't negate any other motivations or benefits to that act. To say that the only reason that anybody would have sex is to satisfy themselves is often wrong because most people take pleasure from the act of giving another person pleasure as well. So, labeling it a selfish act because we are "rewarded" neurologically would be a vast oversimplification in most cases. 

(This seems kind of confusing to me, but I really can't think of a more succinct, concise way to elucidate it. Let me know what I can do to help. Smiling


Maragon
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Thanks for all of the

Thanks for all of the fantastic and detailed responses guys.

 

What I've been noodling around lately is the idea that some people believe in a god simply because they seek the reward of eternal life.

I asked in this thread   whether or not people would still believe in a god without promise of a reward, because I truly believe that this can be the only logical reason for believing.

I'm basically trying to build the case that god belief is a selfish(I use this in the sense that it is in self-interest) contsruct. We believe because it's easier psychologically.

 

Does this make sense? 


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Maragon wrote: I'm

Maragon wrote:

I'm basically trying to build the case that god belief is a selfish(I use this in the sense that it is in self-interest) contsruct. We believe because it's easier psychologically.

 

Does this make sense?

It makes sense, but I think there's more evidence in psychology right now for the conclusion that people believe in God (or a god) because they're hard-wired to.

Check out work by Scott Atran and Andrew Newberg (they both have books out right now).  They're a couple of the big names investigating how brain structures cause religion.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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I wouldn't say that people

I wouldn't say that people are hard-wired to belive in god per se, but rather that our brain structure causes us to frame our observations in a particular manner which sometimes results in god belief. If it was truly "hard-wired", far less people would be able to give up their religious beliefs without experiencing some kind of negative psychological effect.

The area of the brain that is most frequently stimulated during religious experience is the same one that is stimulated during deep meditation and relaxation without any kind of supernatural being involved. It involves the production of certain frequencies of brain waves that cause one to feel relaxed and lose the sense of being contained within your own head--often described as transcendence. I would check out Daniel Dennett's Breaking The Spell, which addresses this issue in more detail, although from a more philosophical/scientific standpoint than psychological. There are also the journals "Psychology of Religion" and "The Scientific Study of Religion" that discuss these questions.


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Ok first off, I don't

Ok first off, I don't believe people are hardwired to believe in god. And this may be better suited for your other thread, but I'll continue anyway. For example, this new religion comes out. We'll call it superhero worship. You are required to pray to some superhero, but everytime you do, he hits you in the head. After you die you go to "hell" where you get punched in the head for eternity. In order to join, you must be punched in the head by the "priest". I would highly doubt, given what I know of psychology, that someone would believe in this. Given no social, psychological or physical reward, there wouldn't be a reason to believe in it. Hence doubtful that the religion would exist.

 Then there is the self-serving bias (I think thats what you are talking about, with this selfish thing). If there are no rewards, why do it? Going off of what kelly (I think it was her) said about evolutionary psychology and sex being fun. If it hurt to have sex, a lot of people probably wouldn't do it. Now subtract its reproductive value, then whats the point? As far as psychological reasoning for religion, there's several reasons. First, yay eternal life. That's a pretty nice reward. Hey, I get a lot of new friends. Theres another reward. Religion, in my opinion, is just like a government. A convenient way of controlling lot's of people. Except with religion, it offers some nice fancy explainations for things science can't easily explain. It's not a very comforting thought for lots of people to think that when you die, that thats the end. It's not easily comprehendable that the world has always been there. Religion just makes it easy for people. 

 Anyway, hope that helps a little bit, if not, sorry for the long pointless reply.