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Altruism: An examination of the concept and a review of the literature

Psychological Bulletin , Volume 73 (4): 258 – Apr 1, 1970


American Psychological Association
Copyright © 1970 by American Psychological Association
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Altruism: An examination of the concept and a review of the literature


Reviews literature relating to altruism and suggests that the study of altruism is important at 3 levels: (a) as it relates to the main goal of socialization, (b) to a core attribute of personality, and (c) to theories concerned with human nature. Independent variables associated with altruism are organized in a 2 * 4 framework on the basis of the source of experimental measurement and level of generality. Characteristics of the benefactor and characteristics of the recipient are categorized as state variables, trait variables, social roles and demographic attributes, and characteristics influenced by social norms. Research at each level is critically reviewed. Positive and negative affective states, and states induced by the observation of models are found to influence the altruism of benefactors; and dependency and interpersonal attractiveness are found to influence the altruism-eliciting capacity of recipients. Research relevant to personality traits is criticized. Effects are found for sex, age, ordinal position, social class, and nationality in relation to benefactors, and for friendship status, ingroup affiliation, and social class in relation to recipients. The normative level of analysis is criticized. (4 p. ref.)
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