Date of Graduation

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Anthropology

Advisor

Ram Natarajan

Committee Member

Peter Ungar

Second Committee Member

Lucas Delezene

Keywords

Biocultural, Dopamine, Evolutionary Theory, Ideology, Kindness, Oxytocin

Abstract

In accordance with Richard Dawkins’ materialist “selfish gene” theory of human behavior, altruism is a subject matter that is treated conservatively by biologists, whose understanding of the human version of altruism tends toward mutualistic and sometimes reputation-based explanations of charity, kindness, and helping. Trivers (1971) first stated that non-kin altruism could evolve if altruistic behavior is balanced between partners over time, implicating a strictly mutualistic domain for kindness. But kindness herein is defined, beyond mere mutualism or reciprocity, as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” Further, kindness tends to have an action-oriented dimension, as in Goetz et al.’s (2010) definition of compassion, denoting helpfulness, the reduction of another’s suffering, or self-sacrifice.

In this paper, I will employ a biocultural approach in exploring the psychological and neuroscientific data on the evolutionary aspect of social behavior as it pertains to kindness. First, I will draw on evolutionary theories of cooperation in suggesting that an individual and ideological ethos of kindness could have evolved as an adaptive orientation that, in a Durkheimian sense, preempted ostracism and cemented alliances as a beneficial balance to the fitness risks inherent in altruism. Then, consulting data on the neurochemical profiles of dopamine and oxytocin, I will describe the sort of human psychological variation that would reveal a complimentary continuum of evolved social proclivities, from selfish to giving. In proposing that non-reciprocal kindness indeed exists, however, I argue that its presence in human societies is statistically rare, as assumptions about human biology suggest. This study thus concludes with a cautious message about the human condition: while the rareness of kindness should have a profoundly fundamental explanatory value in social analysis, scientific confirmation of its fragility would recommend further scholarship designed to highlight its exceptional biological position vis-à-vis the selfish gene.

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