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Humans Are Nicer Than We Think 372

derekmead writes "While everyone's always waxing like Lord Tennyson about nature being 'red in tooth and claw,' neuroscience and psychology are quietly telling us that we may be innately nicer than we think. Sure, we're not cuddly little bunny rabbits, but many lines of evidence over the past few decades have pointed toward some distinctly physical underpinning of basic morality and aversion to violence, implying that humans (and probably many other animals to) have a strong built-in 'try-not-to-punch-that-dude' mechanism. A recent study published in the journal Emotion, by psychologists Fiery Cushman, Allison Gaffey, Kurt Gray, and Wendy Mendes, provides some further evidence for the link, as the authors put it, 'between the body and moral decision-making processes.'"
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Humans Are Nicer Than We Think

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  • it would be nice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:38AM (#39299081)

    to publish the study freely :-))

  • Perhaps.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stms ( 1132653 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:39AM (#39299089)

    Perhaps its because when you punch that dude you risk being expelled from the gene pool due to death or damage to reproductive organs. Nature (and thus humans) are usually only violent when violence increases their chance to reproduce it has nothing to do with morality.

  • by Simon Rowe ( 1206316 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:43AM (#39299105)
    They can rip each other to shreds if the mood takes them.
  • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:44AM (#39299109)

    Maybe that's one reason why news concentrate on bad issues. (On the other hand, everything on the world is well - the news report just lists the exceptions!)

    But back to your point, in the long run it might be the opposite, that people tend to remember more good things while mind works to forget the crappy stuff.

  • In person? yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:46AM (#39299117) Homepage

    On the highway? no, when anonymous? no.

    And when in puberty? not a chance. The human child is a outright evil thing. Ever deal with a pack of teenage girls in a middle school? Satan is nice compared to those evil things.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:53AM (#39299151)

    That's actually a good point. What does being anonymous do to the results of this study?

  • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:58AM (#39299173) Journal

    But back to your point, in the long run it might be the opposite, that people tend to remember more good things while mind works to forget the crappy stuff

    I am very sorry, but I need to point out one very important thing ---

    Contrary to your assertion, the human mind remembers bad events that create bad vibes much more than good feeling events

    Here's one experiment that you can carry out yourself ---

    Go do 100 good things to one person --- open door for the person, pour drink for the person, say "Hello", sweep the yard, clean the car ... and so on

    After you do all that, do one bad thing to that same person --- just one will do

    You can slap that person, or punch him/her, or kick the cat or whatever

    See how that person will react

    Will that person forgive your one bad act because you have done 100 good things for him/her?

    Or will that person remember you forever for that one bad thing that you did to him/her --- and forgot all about the other 100 good things that you have done?

    Go try that out yourself, and see the result

  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:01AM (#39299195)

    People are indeed nice, because they have learned via evolution (social or biological) that cooperation is more productive overall than fighting (just ask military people what is the reason for professional armies and how many soldiers shoot in the air during battles). However, the civilization system that we build promotes and rewards above else cheaters and sociopaths. And thus, the level of psychopathy is proportional to the wealth/power. Being anti-human is a requirement to become very powerful in our paradigm.

    Just make a search on "iterative prisoner's dilemma" and you will see that as long as defection is not rewarded WAY higher than cooperation (it should be higher though - one time cheating is usually profitable) people tend to cooperate. Make the reward for defection really big and well....people will cheat.

    After all wealth is tight with survival chances and longevity so there is a very good biological incentive to seek wealth. The system rewards bastards, so we tend to become bastards.

    I hope I am clear enough.

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:12AM (#39299239) Journal

    You are plenty clear enough for me, so I don't need to mirror your fine point.

    System rewarding bastards applies to many levels of politics. I'll also add the economy of synergy effects - all the bastards are within 100 miles of each other, controlling 150+ million of us across the country. It's absolutely the Prisoner's Dilemma because we can't coordinate enough to vote a third party in.

  • Re:I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Canazza ( 1428553 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:19AM (#39299267)

    If we have a fundamental aversion to violence, then why are we entertained by it?
    Personally I think it's the lack of consequences that entertainment-based violence offers. That our built-in aversion to violence is a more wide-ranging built-in aversion to getting into situations that would end badly for us. A Risk/Reward system built in to our biology.

    Also, *Doffs hat* Have a nice day.

  • Re:Nice but dumb? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjwt ( 161428 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:21AM (#39299279)

    Hanlon's Razor.

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  • Re:Perhaps.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:25AM (#39299295)

    It has everything to do with morality, it IS morality.

    The situation you describe is exactly where personal moral feeling comes from. Its nature telling you (by making you feel bad) that punching that dude is a risky strategy for yourself. The public side of morailty (what we tell others they should do) follows the same rule: My repoduction works better in a world where everybody tells everybody else not to punch each other.

    Perhaps you meant "it has nothing to do with moral absolutes". Then I would agree with you.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:27AM (#39299299) Homepage

    They "evolved" to do so. That's the answer. Natural selection. Those who were co-operative at times were more successful and hence more likely to survive. But it doesn't extend to year-round co-operation like your wren example. In the breeding season, competition gives you a better chance of producing offspring. In the winter, co-operation gives you a better chance of surviving the winter and not waste your energy fighting (because not of the females are breeding then anyway). Maybe bonobos live a different way in a different environment to chimps, buy any chance?

    There's no "magic" here. The species evolved this way because of a history of random choices of co-operation (or at least tolerance) versus competition and, over time, this converges to a pattern of least resistance to survival wherever they happen to habitate.

    Humans co-operate when it's advantageous (collecting food), but not when it's not (fighting over women, protecting your family, etc.). It's no great mystery, unless you want to identify the EXACT point it evolved or the EXACT cause of the evolution - but that's not going to be any use to you at all, really. Evolution is random and only converges on a best solution by chance.

  • by Iskender ( 1040286 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:30AM (#39299313)

    Did you notice your examples of good and bad deeds are on completely different levels? Punching someone isn't a mirror image of saying hello, at least not where I live.

    Say someone does try to beat you up, and a third person intervenes to "save" you. Same level of violence, one bad, one good deed.

    I don't think you'll forget either.

  • Re:I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:46AM (#39299395)

    >If we have a fundamental aversion to violence, then why are we entertained by it?

    So it never occurred to you that humans have the capacity to tell fantasy and reality appart and can in fantasy enjoy the very things that we are averse to in reality without any particular causal link or need for the one to bleed into the other ?
    Not to do deny that such bleeding over never happens, only that there is no proof nor even any GOOD reasons to believe it's inevitable or that the process is not entirely within the conscious control of the person involved.

    We're entertained by fictional violence because they appeal to our flght-or-flight adrenal gland responses without triggering any of the emotions that real violence links to - disgust, fear etc.

    This kind of study is actually quite in line with what we can observe all the time - people who are under the influence of drugs like alcohol are far more likely to act violently. That makes sense as natural aversions are reduced by such drugs (the same reason they have a notable reductive effect on sexual inhibitions)

  • by elucido ( 870205 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:00AM (#39299443)

    It's smarter to be nice thats why.

    If you ever were a kid and you went and punched another kid that kid is probably going to punch you back and harder than you punched them. If you pull a cats tail it's probably going to scratch or bite you. People learn to be nice because usually that is the only way to live a long life. Mean people don't get as much sympathy when something bad happens to them, and people who like violence often don't live very long unless they become professionals.

    Are people nice? Yes but people are nice because they learn to be. In many cases people are nice because they have to be. Experiments have shown the exact opposite of this result. The Milgram experiment [] proves that deep down people aren't nice when no one is looking or when some authority tells them to be mean. The Stanford prison torture experiment [] proves the exact opposite as well in that people actually enjoy hurting others when they know they can get away with it.

    The article is disinformation. It's looking at neuroscience (what people think and feel) vs what they actually do. People tend to do whatever is easiest, then they do what is smarter, and if being mean is easier and smarter than being nice then people can be mean.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:10AM (#39299481)

    If we have a fundamental aversion to violence, then why are we entertained by it?

    I don't think it's the violence, per se. The violence in movies and video games are more wish fulfillment - getting the bad guy and giving him what he deserves.

    Grand Theft Auto, OTOH, .....fantasy - a "what if I went completely ape shit sociopath" type of fantasy.

    Then it gets boring.

    And I find as I get older, the violence get more and more boring. I really don't like action movies. When the fight scenes come, I fidget until they're over - Jackie Chan may be the exception because he's dancing more than he's fighting. Star Wars, the third movie where Vader is created (I don't give a shit what the real title is), put me to sleep - and still does.

    And with any basic knowledge of physics, action movies are incredibly annoying. My biggest pet peeve - when someone shoots someone the shooter doesn't move and the person being shot flies back several meters. I wish there was a zombie Newton that would eat all the brains in Hollywood - but the poor bastard would starve.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:23AM (#39299531) Journal

    Recent dutch new story, some kids taped a pet mouse to a firework rocket. Why was this news? Because reporting each and every day the billions of pets NOT mistreated would make the news run a bit long.

    News is something that is exceptional, not the norm. Today the sun came up, is NOT news. Today the sun didn't come up, that is news.

    No need to dig deeper.

  • Re:I know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:51AM (#39299639) Homepage

    Personally I think it's the lack of consequences that entertainment-based violence offers.

    I'm going to have to disagree with you there: Historically, there were gladiator games and Mayan ball court games with very real risks to the players. Even the modern somewhat-less-violent versions (full-contact sports like football, UFC, boxing, WWE) has significant consequences to the participants in the form of concussions, broken limbs, problems related to steroid use, and shorter life spans. And then there's the people who seem to treat real warfare casually and as entertainment (who are never the people actually fighting it).

    Humans do seem to accept violence that risks other people's lives as entertainment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:51AM (#39299641)

    You seem to ignore the fact that large numbers of people enjoy actual violence, injury and death. Most notable would have been the gladiators and others that were killed off in large numbers in front of very large crowds almost every day. More recently we just love the actual crashing and hurting involved in sports (American Football, Football, Rugby, Boxing etc). Not so much to the death now-a-days, but we do love our actual violence even though it's in the organised sports realm.

    That and we seem to have copious quantities of examples of warfare and the barbarism (gulags, the killing fields, ethnic cleansing, the "resource wars" in Africa, etc etc), which by all accounts all too many people enthusiastically participate in.

    I guess that I'm thoroughly unconvinced by this study.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:04AM (#39299697) Homepage

    Study after study. Paper after paper. Knowledge upon knowledge. We keep learning the same things about ourselves over and over and over again. Corruption is a problem of opportunity more than of character. We observe that people who believe they are "on top" are more likely to cheat and lie. We observe that when we know who we are dealing with and they know us, we are less likely to do 'bad things.'

    It's all part of our human nature. We see it in everything we do. When we get into "road rage" we don't identify the people, we identify the car and call 'it' an asshole and handle it however we feel we need to. When we, people, deal with "non-people" things, we are assholes.

    We have built-in empathy for others. But when we are able to see people as non-people, we can do truly terrible things to them.

    With all that said, there are STILL individuals capable of overcoming this problem. These rare people can look upon the need and suffering of others and not feel a pang of guilt or a desire to help. We call them sociopaths, but we also call them leaders, bosses and idols.

  • Re:I know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:02AM (#39300131)

    It's not unreality that makes violence attractive. If it were, a real fight wouldn't draw a crowd.

    The difference is a fight between two OTHER people doesn't threaten you.

    People are averse to violence that could directly involve themselves and probably only to that threat.

  • Re:I know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jduhls ( 1666325 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @10:27AM (#39300377)

    Time and survival have turned me from a nice kid to a cynical punk

    RTF[Summary]: They're talking "nature". You're talking "nurture". Like maybe one's crappy church or crappy parents or crappy poverty makes one violent.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @11:21AM (#39300927) Homepage

    You can make this argument both ways, the reason altruism doesn't take over either is because the egoist among altruists wins, assuming of course he's proficient enough in the cheating and deception. Imagine for example a group of hunters. A group of egoists can easily starve one by one as they randomly starve. A group of altruists share their food, but it doesn't prevent famine. The egoist among altruists who keeps a little extra for himself survives, turning selection back towards egoism again. It's not like one is dominant over the other, it's a mix that keeps getting tweaked.

  • The evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:02PM (#39301355) Homepage Journal
    The evolutionary pressure is pretty obvious: Even a scratch can become infected and serious fights do result in worse wounds than mere scratches. Furthermore, whether you're evolved for group promoting cultures (most of the world) or individual promoting cultures (pre-christian northern Europeans and most sexual species) a mere "fight" can escalate to mortal combat (war for groups and natural duel* for individuals). The stakes have to be pretty high to initiate these.

    *I use the term "natural duel" in a technical sense that excludes the artifices we have known as "duels" in civilization: Two individuals (males) in an open natural setting -- not in an arena or ring -- using everything at their disposal to hunt down and kill their rival. In the human case this includes the use of tools/weapons of their own making as well as strategy and improvisation.

  • Re:Nice but dumb? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SleazyRidr ( 1563649 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:07PM (#39301405)

    Yes! Stupid people can be educated, malicious people must be avoided.

  • Re:I know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gma i l .com> on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:24PM (#39302297) Journal

    You would be correct if there were an ideology that advocated not working and living off of welfare. The act of receiving welfare only indicates that you don't have a job for some reason.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"