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date: 20 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Human beings need and depend on one another, which means that prosocial behavior is inextricably tied to human survival. The authors adopt a functional approach to integrate and organize the literature on the causes and consequences of prosocial behavior. They use evolutionary theory to highlight the importance of prosocial motivation and behavior for passing on common genes and the importance of close relationships for determining whether prosocial behavior derives from other-focused motivation—a genuine concern for the well-being of another person. The authors present a neurobiological model of prosocial behavior, informed by evolutionary theory, that links motives for prosocial action to their consequences for health and well-being. They refer to this model as a “caregiving system” and describe how emotional states such as empathy and compassion interact with feelings of connection with the recipient to predispose other-focused motivation, which, in turn, regulates stress and immune function. The essay concludes with a discussion of increasing evidence that prosocial behavior is beneficial for reducing mortality risk, improving physical health, and coping with stressful life events.

Keywords: prosocial behavior, altruism, neuroscience, health, social support, stress, evolutionary psychology, caregiving system, literature review

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