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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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  • In other news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zrbyte ( 1666979 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @06:37AM (#39299073)
    Humans have a built in mechanism that focuses more of their attention towards bad things, "not nice" people, etc. Because it's the not nice things / people that have a higher probability of killing you and thus deserve more of your attention.
  • Re:First post (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sjwt ( 161428 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:04AM (#39299205)

    Do we count honesty as nice? A little experiment (in the form of an ad for a bank that I do not use, am not employed by or own shares of).

    Would you give back the $5 to this asshole? []

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:19AM (#39299259)
    The question being "How did species that live in groups evolve in the first place?" - it is a bit chicken and egg. Do animals live in groups because they have evolved towards co-operation, or do they co-operate because that is an emergent property of external pressures causing them to live in groups?

    For instance, it is known that bees have an unusual form of heredity which means that sisters are more closely related than they are to the next generation. Did the bee colony co-evolve cooperation and this hereditary mechanism? Why are bonobos socially cooperative and other chimpanzee races much less so?

    Another example: wrens. In the breeding season these birds are strongly territorial. In winter they will find suitable hiding places and cluster in groups to keep warm.

    Once again, correlation doesn't imply causation, and this subject is well worth investigating because of its potential importance to survival as population increases.

  • Re:In other news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:50AM (#39299411)

    >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!)

    I'm inclined to Bruce Schneier's point of view. News must be new - and rare. Things that happen all the time aren't new or news and nobody cares to be informed about them - the result is news of things that are rare and infrequent. His conclusion: anything that's on the news is by definition too low a risk to worry about.

  • by golden age villain ( 1607173 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @07:54AM (#39299431)
    It is most probably an evolutionary mechanism to reinforce group cohesion. Clearly we are better off as a group than as lone wolfs, especially some thousand years back. Those who don't collaborate, are egoistic in nature or are just plain aggressive benefit from the group without contributing so the group has a very good reason to get rid of them (or socially isolate them). You can find a more academic formulation in game theory to explain altruism and why egoistic behaviours don't take over a population over generations ultimately hurting the group/species.
  • Re:I know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:01AM (#39299451)

    There's probably a near infinite number of basic differences between accurately depicting violence and showing it the way most entertainment does. For just a few examples, take films such as Con Air or the Die Hard series. Are people really attracted to the message of violence itself, or do they like it that the violence seems to fall hardest on the worst villians, as though the violence became proof that there was some sort of God, if only a God of Wrath that would steer a falling villiain into landing in an improvised electric chair? Most people are not attracted to entertainment where violence is shown as part of the random seeming outcomes of the real world. Showing that the Uber-Eeeevil guy still has people who miss him once he's gone - that what one person considers a terrorist, another considers a freedom fighter - that bullets don't always stop in the primary target - these things tend to hurt entertainment sales.
              In a way, you could argue that the (fictive, entertainment depiction of) violence is itself never the real problem, and worrying about the effect of it on even children is worrying about the wrong aspect of the TV shows and films in question. Even if we grant the premise that entertainment violence does have bad effects on some people, maybe it's the terrible inaccuracy of films that show people shooting guns out of "perp's" hands with high powered sniper rifles that would take said perp's whole arm off at the shoulder that cause the psychological damage. Maybe showing the randomness of a realistic firefight, showing the consequences with some respect for realism, is what's needed to keep from glamorizing the violence itself. Maybe it's showing guns as surgically precise tools and bullets as steered by the god of the tribe of good guys to achieve instant karma. Maybe it's showing people falling down, but not showing funerals full of grieving families, or people spending the rest of their lives in wheelchairs, or even some poor janitor having to mop up the mess. Maybe it's the claim that the strong and decent are quick to resort to violence rather than reluctant at best.

  • Re:I know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:04AM (#39299457) Homepage

    When I was young I was the nicest guy I knew
    I thought I was the chosen one
    But time went by and I found out a thing or two
    My shine wore off as time wore on
    I thought that I was living out the perfect life
    But in the lonely hours when the truth begins to bite
    I thought about the times when I turned my back & stalled
    I ain't no nice guy after all --Lemmy Kilminster

    Lemmy said it better than I could.
    Time and survival have turned me from a nice kid to a cynical punk to a vicious hoodlum to a cracked middle aged guy trying to find that nice kid again.
    I think whoever did this research didn't go to the wrong side of town or find subjects outside their safe comfort zone. Like the dick that I am, I'm gonna have'ta call bad science on this one.
    Like they say, "you can't go home again".... I ain't no nice guy after all.

  • Re:In other news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sique ( 173459 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:13AM (#39299489) Homepage

    Well, it's mostly because good news in most cases doesn't have much information in it: "everything is fine. no problems" is not really newsworthy.

    If you look at C. Shannon's definition of information (being the reciprocal of probability), events that we expect to happen, mostly have a high probability and thus not much information to begin with. But events we expect are events we are well prepared for, thus the happening of those events is good news for us. Really big news is at first improbable and thus disruptive, it contradicts our expectation and leaves us unprepared. Thus big news in the most cases is bad news for us.

  • by Richard Kirk ( 535523 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @08:34AM (#39299565)

    I have always found the trolley model to be absurd. If we were being realistic, then there would be other solutions. The same dilemma was re-written for river tribesmen, and I much prefer this version. As far as I can remember, it goes like this...

    You fish on the great river. There are five people in your boat: four people who row, and a fat guy who sits in the back and baits the hooks. Your grandfather has stories of a great and fierce crocodile that lives in the river, and kills entire boat crews, but your generation have never seen it...


    The crocodile appears and comes for the boat. He swims much faster than you can row, but you start to row anyway. The fat guy was standing up at the back, and he falls in. Suddenly the boat is going faster: you might get to shore, but then the fat guy is lost. Do you turn around and try to pick him up? Most people would keep going, but feel that they ought to turn back.


    The crocodile appears and comes for the boat. He swims much faster than you can row, but you start to row anyway. The fat guy was standing up at the back, but does not fall in. You know if he falls in, the boat will go faster, and he may distract the crocodile too. Do you push him in? Most people would not push, but would think that the four for one exchange is reasonable.


    You are the fat guy. The crocodile appears and comes for the boat. If you jump off the boat, the others might make it to shore. Most people would think that the four for one exchange is reasonable: they hope they would be noble enough to jump, but suspect the wouldn't actually do it.

  • by olau ( 314197 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:03AM (#39299691) Homepage

    You could also turn it around. If you kicked someone every day for a year, I'm sure they'd remember the single day you gave that person a free lunch and a pat on the back.

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

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @09:11AM (#39299741)

    I made an "artificial life" simulator - at one point in the simulation I gave the creatures the ability to kill one another (by attempting to occupy the same space at the same time, the bigger (and so, fitter and more able to reproduce) creature would win, and get a food boost as a bonus, too.) Population plummeted for many generations while the creatures slaughtered each other, but then a few generations later, population suddenly increased again - a mutation had learned how to avoid collisions and thus was able to more densely populate the available space. Within a short time, non-violent creatures became dominant over intentionally or accidentally violent ones by a ratio of more than 100:1.

  • by micheas ( 231635 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @11:21AM (#39300923) Homepage Journal

    However, pre Korean war only 15 to 20% of of soldiers in close qurarters fired their weapons. []

    Those who are violent enough to kill are a pretty small number, percentage wise. And nobody would blame a solder for shooting at a soldier that was firing at him.

    Being able to deliberately kill a fellow human being is a somewhat rare ability.

  • Re:I know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HapSlappy_2222 ( 1089149 ) on Friday March 09, 2012 @12:43PM (#39301791)
    Good comment. It got me thinking; I wonder if one reason we are drawn to watching violence from relative safety is to allow us to learn more about violence (or disasters, or whatever) without risk.

    I've never really thought about it this way, but it seems to make a rudimentary sense that we'd develop a desire to watch a train wreck (or fist fight, or Megatron vs Optimus) in order to see who survives, and then mimic their actions if we find ourselves in our own train wreck later on. Surely the ridiculousness of a Hollywood fight scene won't help much in this regard, but, prior to TV? Say, Roman gladiator times? Maybe.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson