Human Altruism and Cooperation


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Brief sketchy overview of my Cognitive Science Term Paper. Just the broad themes and proposals are presented.

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Human Altruism and Cooperation

  1. 1. Do Mirror Neurons hold the key? A Presentation by Arvind Krishnaa Jagannathan
  2. 2. Human Altruism  “Wesley Autrey, a 50-year oldconstruction worker, leaps in front of amoving subway train in New York city tosave a stranger who collapsed onto the tracks.” Why?
  3. 3. Key Ideas Covered 
  4. 4. Outline of the Paper Defining what is altruism and what is the nature of an altruistic beingReview of theories about altruism Reciprocal altruism Mindless altruists Kin selection Bystander effect
  5. 5. Outline of the Paper Is altruism developed by culture or is it a pre- evolutionary artifact?Is joint-learning and cooperative task completion related to our altruistic streak?Is altruism somehow realized within the evolutionary framework through mirror neurons?
  6. 6. Outline of the Paper  Is human altruismunique? Are we the oneswho are “intentionally” altruistic?
  7. 7. Ambitious Questions!  Can altruism be engineered into AI? Should the definition of altruism be broadened; for instance, include “online” altruism  support for the Middle-Eastern rebellion through Facebook, Twitter etc., Is altruism a receding trait? Will future generations of humans possess that trait? To what extent does technology play a role in impacting this?
  8. 8. Mirror Neurons and the Empathy Threshold  Identification of Empathy towards Kin via MN kin, motivated by system MNs Empathy Threshold
  9. 9. Bystander Effect – Interfering Mirror Neurons  Person #1Person #2 Person i Person n
  10. 10. Altruism as an outcome of Cultural Evolution  Culture inculcates altruistic norms which subordinate the individual to group welfare. Children are rewarded for acts of kindness or helpfulness and punished for selfish behavior. Does this reinforcement instill altruistic behavior in children, or does it enhance an already existing character attribute?
  11. 11. Case Studies by Tomasello et al.  Infants between the ages of 12-18 months voluntarily help human “observers” in certain experiments. Infants were able to overcome previously unseen obstacles to assist the “helpless” adults complete their task. This willingness to go “out-of-the-way” to help a stranger  evolves into cooperation and joint learning? A similar study with chimpanzees  Willing to help in scenarios which are less “cognitively” demanding  Willing to help in “difficult” tasks only if they are rewarded
  12. 12. Case Studies by Tomasello et al.  Observed that children who were offered a prize for helping out actually helped out LESS on further trials. The intrinsic satisfaction in accomplishing a cooperative task is diminished by offering a material reward.
  13. 13. Uniqueness of Human Altruism  Evolved as a means to be accepted into/ gain popularity with a society. Assign value to different kinds of helpful deeds:  An action which yields a “positive” outcome is valued “less” than an action which eliminates a “negative” outcome. Weighted based on the subject at the receiving end of the helpful act. Mostly reciprocal altruists
  14. 14. An Unified View  Mirror Evolutionary Selection Empathy Neurons Need to beaccepted into society Altruism Positive and Negative ReinforcementSocial Cultural
  15. 15. Basis of Human Cooperation  Altruistic DesireCognitive Achieve more; Cooperation work less Offload Information Dissemination