Computing the Costs and Benefits of Altruism

Altruism can provide both tangible and intangible benefits. Altruism can result in increased community engagement, healthier connections with others, and financial benefits for the people and the organisation they are assisting. On an intangible level, altruism can bring a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that comes from knowing that one has made a positive difference in the lives of others.

Furthermore, altruism can lead to better mental and physical health, as research suggests that persons who engage in altruistic acts are more physically and emotionally fit. The costs of altruism vary depending on the circumstances. For example, if someone donates time or money to a charitable organisation, they cannot use it for other purposes. Furthermore, the individual may have to make compromises in terms of comfort or convenience in order to aid others.

Benefits of Altruism

Altruism is selfless deeds undertaken to assist others, frequently at personal expense. While altruistic behaviour involves a cost, it also provides many advantages for both the donor and the recipient. Here are some of the essential advantages of altruism.

  • Increased Happiness and Well-Being − Helping others can create positive emotions such as empathy, compassion, and gratitude, improving mental health and well-being. Several kinds of research have discovered a correlation between altruistic behaviour and higher levels of happiness and well-being. For example, a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology discovered that people who engage in altruistic behaviour have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of despair.

  • Improved Physical Health − Physical health has also been connected to altruistic behaviour. Volunteering and other types of altruism have been linked to lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, and increased immune system performance. For example, a study published in Health Psychology discovered that older persons who volunteer at least 200 hours per year have lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.

  • Increased Social Connections − Altruism can also lead to stronger social bonds and a stronger feeling of community. When people act altruistically, they frequently meet new people and create connections with those who share their values and interests. A study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine discovered that volunteers have higher levels of social support and a stronger sense of belonging to their society.

  • Improved Sense of Purpose and Meaning − Altruistic behaviour can also create a sense of purpose and meaning in one's life. Helping others can create a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, leading to greater purpose and meaning. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology discovered that older volunteers have higher life satisfaction and a stronger feeling of purpose and meaning.

  • Improved Reputation and Social Standing − Altruistic behaviour can also boost a person's reputation and social standing in their group and society. People who practise altruism are frequently regarded and admired for their selflessness and compassion. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology discovered that persons who engage in altruistic behaviour are viewed as more trustworthy and deserving of respect than those who do not.

The Costs of Altruism

While selfless behaviour can have numerous advantages, it can also have negative consequences. Here are some of the highest costs of altruism.

  • Personal Sacrifice − Participating in altruistic behaviour frequently entails personal sacrifice, such as giving up time, finances, or energy to assist others. This can lead to emotions of tiredness, burnout, or resentment, especially if the provider does not feel appreciated or returned. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, volunteers frequently experience higher burnout and emotional tiredness than non-volunteers.

  • Opportunity Costs − People who engage in altruistic behaviour frequently pass up opportunities to pursue other aims or interests. For example, suppose someone volunteers all of their spare time. In that case, they may have less time to spend with friends and family or pursue their hobbies and interests, as per the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

  • Emotional Burden − Altruistic behaviour can be emotionally draining, especially if the giver is dealing with unpleasant or painful circumstances. For example, a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress discovered that disaster volunteers exposed to traumatic situations had higher post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms than non-volunteers.

  • Risk of Exploitation − Altruism can put people in danger of exploitation, primarily if they work in disadvantaged or marginalised populations. Research published in the Journal of Business Ethics discovered that some international volunteering programmes might prolong inequality and exploitation by sending short-term and unskilled volunteers to needy regions rather than investing in long-term sustainable solutions.

  • Stigmatization − Finally, participating in altruistic behaviour may result in stigma or poor social judgement, especially if the behaviour violates cultural norms or expectations. For example, a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine discovered that women who participate in sex work for altruistic motives, such as supporting their family, may experience stigma and unfavourable social judgement from their communities.

Framing Effecting in Altruism

The framing effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when people make different decisions based on how information is presented, even when the information is the same. The framing effect can negatively affect altruistic behaviour, particularly when it reinforces stereotypes or biases, influencing how people perceive and respond to false opportunities to help others. For example, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology discovered that when the beneficiaries of a charity were framed as "victims" rather than "survivors," people were less likely to donate, as the "victim" label reinforced negative stereotypes and reduced people's willingness to help.


Altruistic behaviour can have benefits and drawbacks, including greater social connection and well-being and hazards to personal safety and resources. The framing effect influences how people see and respond to opportunities to serve others, emphasising the necessity of carefully framing altruistic behaviour to emphasise good consequences while avoiding perpetuating negative stereotypes.

Updated on: 04-May-2023


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