Kind Minds By Nature

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Darwin’s term “survival of the fittest” typically connotes ruthlessness, greed, and self-interest in the name of competition. But that’s actually quite far from what he meant: “Communities, which included the greatest number of sympathetic members, would flourish best,” he wrote.

Studies today show that our minds are indeed wired for sympathy and empathy—qualities that activate other mammals’ brains, suggesting it’s an innate part of our neurological system. In this animated video, University of California, Berkeley’s psychologist Dacher Keltner discusses the various aspects of kindness: its evolution, biology, and circumstantial influences. Because humans produce vulnerable offspring causing us to be cooperative caregivers, he said, our physiology has evolved accordingly.

Studies revealed that class structure does affect one’s level of empathy, with a “compassion deficit” found in wealthier communities. And contrary to common sense, those with less money are also more likely to donate and give to charity, showing a greater strength of generosity and empathy within lower classes.

While 60 percent of what we do is motivated by self-interest and competition, there’s a great “secondary delight” in acting for others, accounting for 40 percent of our actions: We still find personal fulfillment when sacrificing and risking exploitation through these selfless deeds. “It really requires that we have to redefine human self-interest,” Keltner said. “The great ethical traditions have always been encouraging this, and now we’re seeing the science, that, yeah, the brain really cares about other people.”

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