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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Neural, cognitive, and evolutionary foundations of human altruism

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This article considers three forms of altruism from both a psychological and a neural perspective, with an emphasis on homologies that can be observed across species and potentially illuminate altruism's evolutionary origins. Kin‐based altruism benefits biological relatives and, according to the theory of inclusive fitness, is ultimately beneficial to the altruist from a genetic standpoint. Kin selection adequately explains some altruistic behavior, but it is not applicable to much human altruism. Little is known about the neural processes that support it, but they may include cortical regions involved in processing autobiographical memory and the identities of familiar others. Reciprocity‐based altruism is performed in expectation of future rewards and is supported by dopaminergic cortico‐striatal networks that guide behavior according to anticipated rewards. Care‐based altruism is aimed at improving the well‐being of distressed and vulnerable individuals and is closely linked to empathic concern. This form of altruism is thought to rely on the subcortical neural systems that support parental care, particularly structures densely populated with receptors for the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, including the amygdala, stria terminalis, and striatum. The amygdala may be a particularly important convergence point for care‐based altruism because of its dual role in responding both to cues that signal infantile vulnerability and those that signal distress. Research on altruism continues to converge across disciplines, but more research linking molecular‐level neural processes to altruistic behavior in humans and other species is needed, as is research on how various forms of altruism intersect. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:59–71. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1377 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Emotion and Motivation

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