Are Humans Good By Nature? Or is This Something That Has to be Taught?

in #psychology4 years ago (edited)


Recent studies find our first impulses are selfless I'm quite sure Steemians have quite a bit to say on this topic, so let's get the discussion going.

This Scientific American article looked into "whether our automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively." In this study they looked at two pieces of the decision making process, intuition and reflection.

Intuition is often automatic and effortless, leading to actions that occur without insight into the reasons behind them.
-Source

Reflection, on the other hand, is all about conscious thought—identifying possible behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits of likely outcomes, and rationally deciding on a course of action.
-Source

The gist behind is trying to determine whether the first instinct is to be selfish and this behavior is then overridden with "rational thoughts" or rather is the first instinct itself to be cooperative. In this set of studies they found that faster decisions tended to be more cooperative and slower tended to be more selfish. In the end they gave the conclusion that

This suggests that cooperation is the intuitive response only for those who routinely engage in interactions where this behavior is rewarded—that human “goodness” may result from the acquisition of a regularly rewarded trait.
-Source

So basically we tend to cooperate when we are in a society or culture that praises such goodness. I'd assume that when in a society that instead praises selfishness, that would be the more common intuition. Does this essentially mean that our "good nature" is more of a social nurture (vs nature) factor where it's a matter of what the culture we're born into generally rewards and praises?

Now I'm not claiming this study to be the end all on the question of whether humans are good natured. While I personally like (which doesn't mean it's correct) these studies, I feel that there is more needed, since these were done in a rather controlled environment.

On the philosophy side of things Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that humans are good but corrupted by society. As a counter to this is a rather interesting and logical video from PragerU entitled "Are People Born Good?"

I will admit that I WANT to believe in the inherent good nature of humans, but that unfortunately doesn't always make it so. Ultimately I foresee this "goodness" being defined more by our situation and society that we grow up in. I'm sure there is a ton of materials that can be added to either side of this argument.

What's your take? I'm sure we have Steemians with views all across the spectrum.


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Humans first and foremost want to survive and they have done a good job at that in the last few thousand years. The key for our survival is adaptation. Our brains and hands allowed us to adapt to all climates and environments and to protect ourselves against competing animals.

Now when we feel that our survival might be threatened, we want to defend ourselves. This is where "bad" actions come from basically.

That's why we need to build a society where everybody is treated fairly, feels accepted, worthy and safe. Of course that's impossible. A little neglect at home and a bully at school are enough to turn a human being into a "bad" person...

The people who did the most horrible things in history usually suffered injustices, humiliation and failure themselves. Later in life they want to make it "right"

I'm definitely with you on the aspects of survival instincts and adaption. Even though there is some social component there, such as the small groups early humans were a part of, there was still great concern from both other humans and other dangers such as predators.

Would you say that fear is a driving factor in the neglect and 'horrible historical figure' cases you mentioned? I.e. trying to make sure those traumatizing experiences don't happen again, or maybe more of a getting back at those who 'wronged them?' This isn't meant as an argument to you points, just looking at 'how it made sense to the person' side of things. I tend to believe we all do things for some (subjectively logical) reason, even if purely on a subconscious level.

I feel that fear is a driving factor on so many levels, even without experiencing something necessary bad. Fear is just stronger power than human-beings are, and it only takes one "horrible historical figure" to get all the shitstorm going :D
Check out this movie "Experimenter" to see how people choose to act under authority. It was a real experiment, and it explains a lot how those horrible acts against humananty were done. I would not call those people who are following bad or good. They are just acting on their programms in the brains (we are like robots on so many levels lol). Of course, there are always exceptions, but we are talking about general behavior here I believe.
https://steemit.com/movies/@writingamigo/perfect-reviews-of-perfect-movies-experimenter-should-we-actually-follow-the-orders

Are you talking about the German film "Das Experiment"? Because I do not think have to do so much with fear but with when you give power to someone, even in one experiment like in the film(real life) and instantly the values and moralities of that person start to change. The original experiment was trying to explain why the soldiers follow orders and kill in wars but they are good people in there towns or with there own families.

There was also a experiment with people playing Monopoly game. Some people had more money than the others and after a while the people with more money start to make fun of the others and start to play more aggressively. Just because they had more power (money in this case)

But my question for you is, what do you call bad?

A little neglect at home and a bully at school are enough to turn a human being into a "bad" person...

This happens to everybody in life. I do not know anybody who had not have any of this experience in life, and many all of them, but they did not turned into a "bad?" person.

Still, what is bad for you? This is so relative.

Surviving instincts can not be "bad" and they come from fear, in this case to die, and all the animals have it. It is a natural instinct. But there is something else, the fear to loose something and normally have to do with power, money or greed and then I could be agree with you that the "bad"(or what I personally think it is bad) part of the persons come out.

Sorry for my no so good English, hope you can understand well what I wrote :)

It is different movie. I talk about movie "Experimenter", where people are told to do things by authorities and they just follow, because... they just do :D

Ah! ok will need to look for the film :) did not knew about it. I find very interesting this kind of behavior... Thanks a lot for sharing

They are neutral by nature. It is up to me to poke them in the correct direction...

I could buy into that. While I'll admit I'd love be able to say we are 'born good,' I have to fall into this area with you..seeing it more of a 'nurture' vs 'nature' scenario.

I believe we are neither good nor evil. Everything is based on pure instinct, which kicks-in only when the situation occurs. You can be as good as you want during the peaceful time, because it cost you nothing. That is a positive thing, but that does not make you good by default, and all the studies in fake environment, when people know that they are not risking their life just makes no sense to me.
And those instincts to thrive and survive cannot be bad or good. They just are what they are. Sometimes they look immoral and injust, but they are necessary for human-kind to survive.
P.S. I would also wish that nobody would fight, lie, and hurt each other :D But we have to let go of egoism for that to happen, and I don't see it coming any time soon :D

Well said!
That was part of my concern on the study in the scientific american article...specifically how valid was the data when applied outside the controlled environments.

You also make a good point in the distinction between between what's the peacetime vs survival situations. In those survival states, I agree, you really can't fault someone who's defending their self in that sense.

Interesting question you are throwing to the table here. I would first say that the concepts of bad or good are very relativ, they change a lot from person to person.

Personally I prefer to think like you

I WANT to believe in the inherent good nature of humans

Obviously young children are not aware of what is good or bad. That helps to support the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in some way. The child will learn this concepts over time according to the ideas of the society he live, family he was born from, friends he have, etc and apply it according to his/her taste (what like or dislike).

Very sad my English is not so good, I would love to write more about it but in Spanish ;) It is a very complicated theme for me English.

Thanks for sharing your ideas. Cheers! :)

Oh no worries. Thx for chiming in. I can see how it would be extremely tough to have to translate on a topic like this.

I'll agree that the good/bad nature is relative and sometimes mutually exclusive. While it's not perfect in anyway, I personally find a persons intention on a matter to be important. This also is very relative, since what they view as good, I could view as bad. But if they can provide me with some sort of framing/logic as to why they are performing a certain act, I could at least understand better how it did make sense to them...even if I don't agree.

I don't want this to sound like I'm trying to excuse 'horrible acts' like some have done...it just let's me better define the points where I can see we differ.

Agree with you that...

if they can provide me with some sort of framing/logic as to why they are performing a certain act, I could at least understand better how it did make sense to them...even if I don't agree.

And for sure you are not excusing anything, but understanding that we are all different and have also different points of views about life and its concepts.

Exactly :) That little understanding goes a long way for me...gets beyond the pure good/ bad to human being human.

I like to think that people are good. Maybe I'm just a Polly Anna but I have not totally lost faith in human-kind. Adam Smith in his book "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" believes that sympathy is the basis for our concern for others and that when we cause pain to others we also feel pain.

I believe humans are good nature from the beginning but after that it could go anyway: good or bad. Generally agree with comments from @homosapiens

awsome point...... great thinking.... upvoted :D

Thank you! It's one I like to think about, but the more I read, people watch, etc. it's a tricky one to find a really hard answer on. I'll admit I'd love to believe we are good natured at birth, there are some really good, valid counter arguments I've found. :)

As inherently social animals, humans naturally "truck, barter, and exchange" (in Adam Smith's famous words) to their mutual benefit, and insofar as they are allowed to do so — i.e., to exercise free and voluntary cooperation — both their actions and the results thereof are overwhelmingly good.

With the institutionalization of coercion, however — i.e., of territorial monopolies on the use of force, aka the state — society is literally robbed, to one extent or another, of its ability to freely cooperate. Thus is it robbed of its very humanity, with results that history has gone out of its way make clear, the more so in a world running amok in statist excess.