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Korchmaros_Kenny_2001 - PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Research...

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PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Research Report 262 Copyright © 2001 American Psychological Society VOL. 12, NO. 3, MAY 2001 EMOTIONAL CLOSENESS AS A MEDIATOR OF THE EFFECT OF GENETIC RELATEDNESS ON ALTRUISM Josephine D. Korchmaros and David A. Kenny University of Connecticut Abstract— Inclusive fitness theory has been used to explain the over- all pattern of altruistic behavior. However, this theory does not ad- dress the proximal causes of altruism. The purpose of the present study was to increase the understanding of altruism by testing a model that includes both ultimate and proximate causes. In particular, emo- tional closeness was tested as a mediator of the effect of genetic relat- edness on altruistic behavior. This was accomplished by having college students choose which of their family members they would most likely provide with life-saving assistance. As expected, results showed that emotional closeness is an important proximal cause of al- truism that partially mediates the effect of genetic relatedness on will- ingness to act altruistically. Inclusive fitness theory (Hamilton, 1964) posits that social behav- iors such as altruism—assisting other individuals at some cost and without the expectation of a reward—have evolved because they in- crease the prevalence of the actor’s genes. Research findings on altru- ism have been consistent with this proposition. Specifically, altruism (Essock-Vitale & McGuire, 1985; Leek & Smith, 1991; Smith, Kish, & Crawford, 1987) and willingness to act altruistically (Burnstein, Crandall, & Kitayama, 1994; Korchmaros, 1999; Ma, 1985a, 1985b, 1989, 1992; O’Neill & Petrinovich, 1998; Petrinovich, O’Neill, & Jor- gensen, 1993) increase as genetic relatedness increases. However, it has not been established what proximal causes lead to this overall pat- tern of altruistic behavior. Even if humans are genetically predisposed to be attuned to markers of genetic relatedness, the specific nature of the psychological mechanisms that lead one to be more willing to act altruistically toward kin than nonkin and more willing to act altruisti- cally toward close kin than more distant kin is still unknown. It is plausible that these psychological mechanisms are, in part, based on emotional closeness (Cunningham, 1986)—a sense of concern, trust, and caring for another individual and enjoyment of the relationship with that individual (Lee, Mancini, & Maxwell, 1990). Emotional closeness between two people causes them to want to help each other, especially when the other is in need. Investigations of altruistic behavior have shown that people are usually more willing to provide assistance to friends (i.e., people they know and care about) than to strangers and acquaintances (Bell, Grekul, Lamba, Minas, & Harrell, 1995; Clark & Mills, 1993) and that people feel that friends are more obligated than strangers to provide assistance when it is needed (Bar-Tal, Bar-Zohar, Greenberg, & Hermon, 1977). Moreover, research has shown that people are systematically more willing to act altruistically toward nonkin whom they are close to and care about than toward kin, even kin of high degrees of genetic relatedness. For
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