Altruism Gone Mad
The notion of pathological altruism presupposes that the conceptual problem of altruism has been solved and that credible criteria exist to distinguish that which is pathological from that which is not. In contrast to most of the contributors to this volume, who take a personality-based approach, This chapter reviews social psychological theory and research on altruism and its excesses. From the perspective of social cognition and game theory, pathological altruism is a shortfall in strategic reasoning. For example, faulty or inflexible expectations regarding the behavior of others can result in self-defeating behavior in certain interdependent situations, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma or the Volunteer’s Dilemma. Social categorization and social distance moderate what it means to be altruistic, which further complicates the task of those individuals caught in these dilemmas and the researchers who study them. The chapter discusses how these considerations can help explain why (pathological) altruists have not died out.
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