Empathy, Altruism & Agape:Perspectives on Love in Science and Religion
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October 1-3, 1999, University Park Hotel at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Dan Batson is a social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas. He holds Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary (summa cum laude) and from Princeton University. He has conducted a number of experiments on empathy and altruism (some funded by NSF), is the author of The Altruism Question: Toward a Social-Psychological Answer (Erlbaum Associates, 1991), and is co-author (with Patricia Schoenrade and Larry Ventis) of Religion and the Individual: A Social-Psychological Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1993).
Addressing the Altruism Question Experimentally

Why do we humans spend so much time, money, and energy to benefit others? Is our goal ever more than self-benefit; are we capable of caring about another person’s welfare as an ultimate goal? This is the altruism question. The empathy-altruism hypothesis offers an affirmative answer to this question. It claims that empathic emotion (an other-oriented emotional response congruent with the perceived welfare of another individual) evokes altruistic motivation (a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing the other’s welfare).

I wish to outline the logic of a program of research designed to test the empathy-altruism hypothesis using laboratory experiments on humans. Variables are manipulated to test competing predictions of the empathy-altruism hypothesis and one or more egoistic explanations of the motivation to help evoked by empathy. Three general classes of egoistic explanation have been considered: (a) reward seeking--including material, social, and self-rewards; (b) punishment avoiding--including material, social, and self-punishments; and (c) aversive-arousal reduction--reducing the arousal produced by witnessing another in need. To date, more than 25 experiments have been conducted. Results of these experiments have failed to support any of the egoistic alternatives; instead, with remarkable consistency results have patterned as predicted by the empathy-altruism hypothesis. To the best of my knowledge, there is at present no plausible egoistic explanation of the motivation to help evoked by empathy. The results of these experiments lead me to suggest tentatively that the empathy-altruism hypothesis is true. Empathy-induced altruism is part of human nature.

I also wish to describe several directions for current and future experimental research on empathy, altruism, and related phenomena. First, not only are there broad theoretical implications of the evidence for the empathy-altruism hypothesis, there are broad practical implications as well. For example, experimental research indicates that people may at times be motivated to suppress or avoid empathic feelings in order to avoid altruistic motivation. Empathy avoidance may be a factor in burnout in the helping professions, in difficulty caring for the terminally ill, and in callousness toward the plight of the homeless. More positively, inducing empathy for a member of a stigmatized group (people with AIDS, the homeless, etc.) has been found to improve attitudes toward the group. Empathy has also been found to increase cooperation in potential conflict situations.

Further, experimental methods are being used to test whether there are sources of altruistic motivation other than empathy. The sources being considered include certain personality attributes, values, and ways of being religious. Finally, these methods are being used to test for the existence of prosocial motives other than egoism and altruism. Motives being tested include motivation to benefit a group and motivation to uphold moral principles.

This experimental research has limitations, both logical and methodological. Moreover, it raises difficult issues about research ethics that need careful consideration. These limitations not withstanding, I think experimental research has and will continue to make an uniquely valuable contribution to our understanding of the motivation that leads one person to care for another. To understand what leads one person to care for another is knowledge our society desperately needs.

Friday, October 1, 1999

Elliott Sober, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin
Mapping the Conceptual Terrain

Leda Cosmides, Ph.D. & John Tooby,Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Friendship, engagement, and the Banker’s Paradox: Other pathways to the Evolution of Altruism

William H. Durham, Ph.D.
Stanford University
The Role of Culture in the Evolution of Altruism

David Sloan Wilson, Ph.D.
Binghamton University SUNY
The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Altruism in Evolutionary Theory: Discussion with Audience

Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph. D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Living Links Center
Communication of Emotions and the Possibility of Sympathy in Monkeys and Apes

Antonio R. Damasio, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
The Neurobiology of Emotion

Hanna Damasio, M.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
Impaired Emotion and Social Behavior Following Brain Damage

William B. Hurlbut, M.D.
Stanford University
Empathy, Evolution and Ethics

Rev. Eugene Rivers
Ella J. Baker House

Saturday, October 2, 1999

Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Center
The Molecular Biology of Monogamy

Greg Fricchione, M.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Brain Evolution: Separation, Attachment and Agape

Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.
Harvard University
The Human Moral Sense

Don Browning, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago
Agape, Empathy and the Foundational/Nonfoundational Debate

Joan Eads, Zone Coordinator
L’Arche USA

Jeffrey P. Schloss, Ph.D. Westmont College
Is It Really More Blessed to Give than to Receive?: Emerging Questions in the Evolution of Radical Altruism

Edith Wyschogrod, Ph.D.
Rice University Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

Sunday, October 3, 1999

Samuel P. Oliner, Ph.D.
Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute
Extraordinary Acts of Ordinary People: Faces of Heroism and Altruism

Pearl Oliner, Ph.D.
California State University - Humboldt
Ingroup and Outgroup Altruism: Protestants and Catholics

Kristen Renwick Monroe, Ph.D.
University of California
How Identity and Perspective Constrain Choice

Dan Batson, Ph.D.
University of Kansas
Addressing the Altruism Question Experimentally

V.S. Ramachandran, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Neural Basis of Empathy and of Artistic Experience

Lynn G. Underwood, Ph.D.
Fetzer Institute
The Human Experience of Agape & Compassion: Conceptual Mapping and Data from Selected Studies

Ruben L.F. Habito, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University
Compiversity Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

John Templeton Foundation
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