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6.3: Self-Concern and Other Concerns

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    6.3: Self-Concern and Other-Concern


    The most basic tendency of all living organisms, and the focus of the first human motivation, is the desire to protect and enhance one’s own life and the lives of the people who are close to us. Humans are motivated to find food and water, to obtain adequate shelter, and to protect themselves from danger. Doing so is necessary because we can survive only if we are able to meet these fundamental goals.

    The desire to maintain and enhance the self also leads us to do the same for our relatives—those people who are genetically related to us. Human beings, like other animals, exhibit kin selectionstrategies that favor the reproductive success of one’s relatives, sometimes even at a cost to the individual’s own survival. According to evolutionary principles, kin selection occurs because behaviors that enhance the fitness of relatives, even if they lower the fitness of the individual himself or herself, may nevertheless increase the survival of the group as a whole.

    6-3 people similing .png

    The evolutionary principle of kin selection leads us to be particularly caring of and helpful to those who share our genes.

    Louish Pixel – Framed Family Photo – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Chris – 1970s Family Picture – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Loren Kerns – Kerns family self portrait – CC BY 2.0.

    In addition to our kin, we desire to protect, improve, and enhance the well-being of our ingroup: those whom we view as being similar and important to us and with whom we share close social connections, even if those people do not actually share our genes. Perhaps you remember a time when you helped friends move all their furniture into a new apartment, even when you would have preferred to be doing something more beneficial for yourself, such as studying or relaxing. You wouldn’t have helped strangers in this way, but you did it for your friends because you felt close to and cared about them. The tendency to help the people we feel close to, even if they are not related to us, is probably due in part to our evolutionary past: The people we were closest to were usually those we were related to.


    Although we are primarily concerned with the survival of ourselves, our kin, and those who we feel are similar and important to us, we also desire to connect with and be accepted by other people more generally—the goal of other-concern. We live together in communities, we work together in work groups, we may worship together in religious groups, and we may play together on sports teams and through clubs. Affiliating with other people—even strangers—helps us meet a fundamental goal: that of finding a romantic partner with whom we can have children. Our connections with others also provide us with other opportunities that we would not have on our own. We can go to the grocery to buy milk or eggs, and we can hire a carpenter to build a house for us. And we ourselves do work that provides goods and services for others. This mutual cooperation is beneficial both for us and for the people around us. We also affiliate because we enjoy being with others, being part of social groups, and contributing to social discourse (Leary & Cox, 2008).

    What the other-concern motive means is that we do not always put ourselves first. Being human also involves caring about, helping, and cooperating with other people. Although our genes are themselves “selfish” (Dawkins, 2006), this does not mean that individuals always are. The survival of our own genes may be improved by helping others, even those who are not related to us (Krebs, 2008; Park, Schaller, & Van Vugt, 2008). Just as birds and other animals may give out alarm calls to other animals to indicate that a predator is nearby, humans engage in altruistic behaviors in which they help others, sometimes at a potential cost to themselves.

    In short, human beings behave morally toward others—they understand that it is wrong to harm other people without a strong reason for doing so, and they display compassion and even altruism toward others (Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010; Turiel, 1983). As a result, negative behaviors toward others, such as bullying, cheating, stealing, and aggression, are unusual, unexpected, and socially disapproved. Of course this does not mean that people are always friendly, helpful, and nice to each other—powerful social situations can and do create negative behaviors. But the fundamental human motivation of other-concern does mean that hostility and violence are the exception rather than the rule of human behavior.

    Sometimes the goals of self-concern and other-concern go hand in hand. When we fall in love with another person, it is in part about a concern for connecting with someone else but is also about self-concern—falling in love makes us feel good about ourselves. And when we volunteer to help others who are in need, it is in part for their benefit but also for us. We feel good when we help others. At other times, however, the goals of self-concern and other-concern conflict. Imagine that you are walking across campus and you see a man with a knife threatening another person. Do you intervene, or do you turn away? In this case, your desire to help the other person (other-concern) is in direct conflict with your desire to protect yourself from the danger posed by the situation (self-concern), and you must decide which goal to put first. We will see many more examples of the motives of self-concern and other-concern, both working together and working against each other, throughout this book.

    6-3 people and animals holding each other .png

    Other-concern is a fundamental part of the behavior of humans and many animals.

    Fenix_21 – DSC01311 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Tambako The Jaguar – Relaxing couple – CC BY-ND 2.0; mrhayata – Couple – CC BY-SA 2.0; Vladimir Pustovit – Couple – CC BY 2.0.


    The above content was remix from:

    1.5: Defining Social Psychology- History and Principles is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    6.3: Self-Concern and Other Concerns is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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