Extreme altruists’ motivated by gut instinct

The researchers analysed statements made in interviews by people who were recipients of a medal for heroism. Study participants were told to rate the statements for evidence of intuition or deliberation. Computer text analysis was also used to confirm similar patterns.

The aim was to see if people who acted with “extreme altruism” did so without thinking or if some conscious self control was needed to override any fears or other negative emotions.

The responses of the medal recipients were found to be mostly “intuitive” and automatic, even in situations where these people may have had time to deliberate before taking action.

“Together with our prior results from the laboratory, these findings suggest that spontaneous, gut-level intuitions play a very important role in motivating cooperation, helping and altruism,” Assistant Professor Rand said.

“Rational deliberation, on the other hand, often favours selfishness.”