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Altruism and HealthPerspectives from Empirical Research$
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Stephen G. Post

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195182910

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195182910.001.0001

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Health and the Ecology of Altruism

Health and the Ecology of Altruism

(p.314) 17 Health and the Ecology of Altruism
Altruism and Health

David Sloan Wilson

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Oxford University Press

This chapter tests an ecological and evolutionary hypothesis of the fitness of altruists, using the Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development, which includes information on a large sample of American adolescents gathered through questionnaires and the experience sampling method. The hypothesis places altruism in its ecological context as a human behavioural strategy that will be advantageous in some environments (stable ones where altruism thrives) and that may cause stress in others (where altruism is unreciprocated or unappreciated). Data showed that highly prosocial teens tended to inhabit positive, stable, and encouraging environments while low-prosocial teens experienced events typical of harsh social environments (i.e., fighting and teen pregnancy). Transplanting these altruistic and selfish teens would cause stress to both groups, and this is supported by the fact that the highly prosocial teens are less able to cope with the stresses typical of the low-prosocial environment. The study's hypothesis is further supported by the predominantly male sample of narcissists (low-prosocial teens with high self-esteem and plans for the future) within the study who had extremely good mental health, much like the highly prosocial individuals within supportive environments. Religiousness is highly correlated to prosocial behaviour, and religions appear to be very effective at creating social environments or niches where altruism flourishes.

Keywords:   Sloan Study, altruistic behaviour, altruists, adolescents, prosocial teens, religiousness

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