altruism LO28463

From: Doug Merchant (
Date: 05/11/02

Replying to LO28449 --

>> "Passions Within Reason:The Strategic Role of the Emotions" by Robert H.
>> Frank is an interesting read. From the book's dust cover:
>> "Through all the examples, Professor Frank finds a single thread: pursuing
>> self-interest may require a deep-seated sense of social commitment."
>> doug merchant

>my supposition is that you have read and appreciate this book, would you
>therefore give us, share with us, a short account of its thesis.

Imagine George makes a one-day, one-time trip to a far away city. He eats
diner alone at a restaurant where his table is near the door. As he
leaves the restaurant, he leaves a tip for the waiter. Why? A rational,
self-interest model would have him pocket the tip. Why would the human
nature supporting such behavior emerge? What evolutionary advantage
accrues to those who where predisposed to such behavior?

In short (very short), Frank argues that altruistic, commitment behavior
is related to the behavioral characteristics required to successfully
solve a specific type of contracting problem, the Prisoner's Dilemma
problem. To solve a Prisoner's dilemma problem a person must make a
commitment that may eventually require them to act against their
self-interest. Emotions play the strategic role of providing involuntary
signaling mechanisms that can indicate trust worthiness to the other
"contracting" parties. In part, Frank supports four conclusions:

1) People often do not behave as predicted by the self-interest model.

2) The reason for irrational behavior is not always that people

3) Emotion is often an important motive for irrational behavior.

4) Being motivated by emotion is often an advantage.

The book chapters are:

1) Beyond Self-Interest (the book starts with discussion of the extremely
bloody Hatfield and McCoy feud which lasted for almost 40 years)
2) The Altruism Paradox
3) A Theory of Moral Sentiments
4) Reputation
5) Signaling
6) Telltale Clues
7) Predicting Cooperation
8) Becoming Moral
9) Fairness
10) Love
11) Human Decency
12) Reflections

Appendix: A Formal Version of the Commitment Model
(Frank was an economics professor at Cornell University)

doug merchant


"Doug Merchant" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.