“Intuitive Prosociality”


Many theories of human prosociality suggest human beings must exert reflective-control over selfish impulses in order to behave prosocially. However, new evidence from three areas of psychology research, reviewed by Jamil Zaki and Jason Mitchell in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, suggests prosociality may be an impulse in its own right. More specifically, evidence from decision-making, neuroscience, and developmental psychology demonstrates that prosocial behaviors and preferences often follow patterns of intuitive psychological processes, rather than control-oriented processes. The decision-making evidence illustrates the automatic qualities of prosocial choices, such as faster decision times when making prosocial choices versus selfish ones. Neuroscience research reveals control-related brain systems are rarely activated when people make prosocial decisions, with the automatic reward-system more likely to be engaged. Finally, developmental research shows that young children, often exhibit prosocial behaviors such as spontaneous helping, despite having not yet developed reflective control over their behavior. Given this evidence, Zaki and Mitchell support an intuitive-model of prosociality, and posit, ”Prosocial acts, instead of requiring control over selfish impulses, may represent a class of intuition in and of themselves.”


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