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Can some people be extremely altruistic? The Anti-Psychopath.

(22 Posts)
whenim64 Mon 29-Sep-14 09:18:12

This interested me, because psychological studies of altruism usually default back to theories that there are reciprocal benefits for the person who helps others.

Lilygran Mon 29-Sep-14 09:41:38

The view that there is a 'reciprocal benefit' ignores the idea that knowing you have done a good thing can be a benefit to you. The whole concept of charity is underpinned by the belief that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Doing good produces benefits all round.

whenim64 Mon 29-Sep-14 10:12:51

This article centres on extreme altruism, rather than general good behaviour in the form of being charitable and generous to people we don't know, Lilygran. This research posits that a small group of people aren't necessarily recognising that they've done a good deed (so no personal pay-off for them to feel good about what they've done), but that they have a different sized amygdala which governs their extreme altruistic behaviour, and likewise some psychopaths have an unusually small amygdala, governing their unempathic, callous behaviour, which doesn't register with them, either.

I wonder whether it's all down to a tiny part of the brain - I understand how criminal psychopaths are assessed and generally deemed to be untreatable, and that many more psychopaths lead lawful lives but treat others badly, but the notion that the anti-psychopath has an urge to do extremely altruistic deeds with no benefit to themselves, even a feel-good factor, is very interesting. Is there anyone reading this who knows an individual like this, who is dismissive of the idea that they've done a fantastic thing for a complete stranger?

HollyDaze Mon 29-Sep-14 10:27:02

psychopaths lead lawful lives but treat others badly

I discovered that my second husband was classified as a psychopath (not the murderous kind) but he was (as many of them are) very aware of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and can, when it suits them, adapt their behaviour accordingly and be the most charming of people you would ever meet - until it stops suiting them. Would the same be true of the anti-psychopath?

If they have all displayed low self-esteem (as shown by their low ratings of themselves), could this extreme giving be a form of seeking approval that they are not as bad as they believe they are but it is a quest that can never be satisfied (for themselves)?

jinglbellsfrocks Mon 29-Sep-14 11:03:32

Quoting from the article, "Perhaps these extreme altruists are not exactly “opposite” of a psychopath but, in fact, "rather similar to one, in that instead of being ‘addicted to evil’ they are ‘addicted to good".

Although the article goes on to disagree with that, it's the take I have on most do-gooders, ie they do good because of the good feeling it gives them. (their reward)

jinglbellsfrocks Mon 29-Sep-14 11:10:46

The study of the brains was only done on 19 people. Not reliable scientifically. .

jinglbellsfrocks Mon 29-Sep-14 11:14:49

Where did they find the psychopaths to take part in the study? Or did they only measure the brains of 19 random people. Or find 19 really naice subjects?

Eloethan Mon 20-Oct-14 13:21:27

Well, even if people get a feeling of satisfaction from doing something for someone other than themselves, what's wrong with that?

Does this distaste for people feeling good about themselves derive from religious notions of sacrifice and the nobility of suffering?

Stansgran Mon 20-Oct-14 15:32:49

If it is your norm to do the right thing how can you feel good about it ? And how can you say that someone only did something because of the feel good feed back? There were four people begging today in Durham:- a young woman singing with her radio,a lad with a hoodie and sleeping bag and a mouth organ,a Roumanian accordionist , and a woman with a bucket and saying cancer research . I didn't give to any of them BTW but wondered at people's motives for giving to any of them.

janeainsworth Mon 20-Oct-14 17:56:56

When the sample was limited to people who had donated kidneys, so doesn't that rather limit the study? Doesn't that mean you are defining altruism in terms of organ donation? It would have been interesting to know more about these people's lives, whether they did anything else that could be called altruistic.
Also, the article said the findings discounted the idea that the donors had given their kidneys for non-altruistic reasons. Given that they were in the USA, I'm a little sceptical of that conclusion.
Interesting article though.

janerowena Mon 20-Oct-14 21:22:26

I give, I hate to think of people down on their luck, but I do hope that if one day I too am in that place, someone will take pity on me. It really is that simple.

whenim64 Mon 20-Oct-14 22:28:33

janea I was just posing the question about altruism in its extreme, as the research quoted suggests there may be such a thing as an anti-psychopath, which intrigues me. The example of a kidney donation to a stranger could be one of many altruistic acts that are dismissed by the extreme altruist as being of no account to them, in the way that psychopaths don't tend to reflect on how much harm they've inflicted. Can't say I've come across an extreme altruist who is dismissive of their generosity, but perhaps one characteristic is that they aren't willing to talk about it. Dunno........

janerowena Mon 20-Oct-14 22:32:34

Even psychopaths have a sort of reason behind what they do - the people/victims have something that they want, or they get in the way. In the same way, maybe anti-psychopaths put less value on their possessions or selves, so are happy to part with them because they don't have as much value to them as they do/would do to others.

whenim64 Mon 20-Oct-14 23:12:15

Yes, maybe so. The twisted reasoning of some psychopaths is unendingly bizarre. I met one who claimed he killed because he believed his victims would never have a normal life anyway, after being shot at in bank robberies. It's difficult to fathom where the truth is when some do actually believe what they say and others are accomplished liars. I wonder if the 'anti-psychopath' puts no value on themselves, whereas psychopaths can be at the other end of that particular continuum.

Ana Mon 20-Oct-14 23:20:55

And the so-called 'anti-psychopath' can presumably also lie, to him/herself and/or to others.

I don't see how anyone can truly know what another person's driving force actually is. Or even their own. The human mind can be very tricky...

Ana Mon 20-Oct-14 23:25:14

(as of course you all know - not meaning to teach my grandmother etc.)

Worthit Sat 28-Feb-15 19:15:25

Oh yes, there are many psychopaths around and we have all met them. Trouble is, we rarely recognise them for the psychopaths they are. We are duped by their smooth exterior and their manipulating ways. Whenever someone makes us feel uncomfortable by word or deed, we should look a bit harder at why.

Nelliemoser Sat 28-Feb-15 20:45:35

This is rather off thread but I have just realised that the word "Amygdales" is used in Geology and Anatomy.

I have just spent a week on a geology trip and I have been looking at some amygdales in rocks through a hand lens. These are small holes in rocks which are filled with other minerals. they look like spotty rock. I shall most certainly remember what it is now when I hear the term again.

I wonder if the anatomical use of the word describes a structure of similar appearance?

The French use it largely to refer to tonsils.

Don't worry I will get back to reality soon. confused

Ana Sat 28-Feb-15 20:53:36

All very interesting, Nelliemoser, but I'm not sure what it has to do with altruism or psychopathy confused

Galen Sat 28-Feb-15 21:29:41


Galen Sat 28-Feb-15 21:30:05


Galen Sat 28-Feb-15 21:34:34

The amygdala (Latin, corpus amygdaloideum) is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain's medial temporal lobe.
Shown to play a key role in the processsing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system.
In humans and other animals, this subcortical brain structure is linked to both fear responses and pleasure.
Its size is positively correlated with aggressive behavior across species.
In humans, it is the most sexually-dimorphic brain structure, and shrinks by more than 30% in males upon castration.
Conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias are suspected of being linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala, owing to damage, developmental problems, or neurotransmitter imbalance.
Note: This article excerpts material from the Wikipedia article "Amygdala", which is released under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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