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Mindful : August 2013
Kindness Evolution Interested in fur ther research on cooperation? Go to mindful.org/cooperate When we think of “sur vival of the fittest,” Dar win’s theor y of evolution comes to mind. But have you heard of “sur vival of the kindest”? Dacher Keltner thinks that’s more accurate. He’s director of the Greater Good Sci- ence Center at UC Berkeley, which has been keeping track of research into prosocial behavior—actions that promote mutual well-being—since 2001. Keltner says he’s now seeing “a sea-change in sci- entific literature” on evolution- ary psychology. In contrast to the dog-eat-dog view of human nature, new research is showing that people are inher- ently altruistic and cooperative. “We’re equipped with mecha- nisms for care and nur turance,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Greater Good’s science direc- tor. “And they’re as original as any we have for self-preser va- tion and competition.” In a recent paper discussed in Greater Good’s online maga- zine, Har vard researchers David Rand, Joshua Greene, and Mar- tin Nowak (coauthor of the book SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed) exam- ine how we behave in social dilemmas—that is, where our shor t-term “selfish” interests conflict with long-term com- munity interests. Their conclu- sion? “Although the cold logic of self-interest is seductive, our first impulse is to cooperate.” Researchers in neurology are also finding ways we’re pro- grammed for altruism. When we give something away we get a shot of dopamine, the neuro- transmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure cen- ters. Mirror neurons also play a role, says Keltner, enabling us to take on other people’s pleasures as our own. “That’s a power ful cognitive mechanism.” Keltner’s own work shows that self-interest is overrated. Greed is, in fact, not good. “ We know scientifically that if we prime people to focus on materialistic things and them- selves, they’re less cooperative.” But trying to make it on your own is not the key to success over the long run. And as the planet’s popula- tion grows, figuring out how we can live together peaceably and effectively is key, says Simon- Thomas. “Really solid skills in communicating, understand- ing, and working well with other people are your biggest assets.” It turns out even Dar win didn’t believe we’re all self- ish—he argued that sympathy is our strongest instinct. And Keltner says, “a lot of the data today lends credence to that view. It shows we have a default tendency to share and give.” ● August 2013 mindful 13 Illustration by Gavin Potenza