Why Some People Are More Altruistic Than Others

8 Nov

Altruism sparks a very big debate in evolutionary psychology. Does pure altruism actually exist? Or do we “altruistically” help others simply to get something in return later on (think The Godfather) or maybe to look good to our friends (e.g. if I donate money to charity, that girl will think I’m nice and go out on a date with me…)? After decades of research, most psychologist are optimistic that there is such thing as pure altruism. And they may be right, because new research from the University of Bonn claim to have discovered the “altruism” gene!

University of Bonn professor Dr. Martin Reuter had participant undergo a cheek swap test for DNA analysis before participants completed a “retention” test where they had to memorize a series of numbers and then repeat them correctly. Participants were given 5 Euros for completing the task, which they could “anonymously” partially donate to a charity. The researchers knew how much money was in the money box before the participants donated, so they could actually calculate how much each participant donated.

Researchers focused on analyzing the participants DNA specifically for the COMT gene, of which there are two versions, COMT-Val and COMT-Met, which occur approximately in equal frequency in a population and are know to be responsible for inactivating certain messages in the brain, including dopamine.

Reuter found that students with the COMT-Val gene donated twice as much money on average as students with the COMT-Met gene! This is the first research to show a connection between a particular gene and altruism.

What are the implications of this research? In the future, when more people genetically modify their children, would we want them to be more or less altruistic? Why has altruism evolved?

Article image via psychology today.

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