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Discuss Evolutionary Explanations Of Altruism

            Discuss evolutionary explanations of altruism.
             Altruism is a very interesting subject and is the cause for much debate throughout many academic areas as well as psychology, such as biology and economics. People are always asking "Is there such a thing as true altruism?" To begin I would like to define what I mean by altruism. One definition of altruism is "selfless concern for the well-being of others" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2002). Altruism is any behaviour that has some benefit to the recipient at some cost to the donor. Evolutionary theory leads us to consider altruism in terms of the costs and benefits to the altruist. A trait is said to be evolutionarily altruistic because of the effects it has on fitness. An organism's fitness is its ability to be reproductively successful; survival is relevant to fitness only to the extent that it promotes reproductive success. The barbed stinger of the honeybee can be considered an altruistic trait; the bee disembowels itself when it stings an intruder to the nest; the stinger keeps pumping venom even after the bee has died, which is of benefit to the group. Some other examples of altruism include food sharing in vampire bats, social insects helping others to reproduce and alarm calling amongst many species of birds and mammals. But if animals really were to perform behaviours that were selfless, surely they would lose the evolutionary "race" against those that were not? The selfish recipients would gain without cost and altruists would encounter costs without gains. Several attempts have been made to explain how altruistic behaviours are preserved in populations. These theories suggest that there is an inherent gain for the altruist, that is to say the altruism is only "apparent". Not all altruism is entirely selfless as it can often be directed towards kin or it can be a form of reciprocal altruism. Throughout the rest of this essay I will discuss the different explanations of altruism that are presented by the evolutionary theory.

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