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date: 17 September 2021

Abstract and Keywords

People find inherent satisfactions in helping and contributing to others for nonselfish reasons. Self-determination theory (SDT) suggests that being benevolent is often intrinsically motivated, or alternatively done out of deeply internalized social values that are autonomously enacted. In turn such behaviors satisfy basic psychological needs and thereby enhance subjective well-being. A further question concerns more ultimate explanations. Drawing on both SDT and evolutionary psychology, this chapter argues that the association of these proximal need satisfactions with moral and prosocial actions has persisted because these propensities and satisfactions have yielded manifold selective advantages. In addition, need-thwarting conditions evoke more aggressive, competitive, and self-protective strategies. The fact that people typically experience benevolence as deeply need satisfying, and doing harm to others as need frustrating, is thus an aspect of how proximally experienced satisfactions in individual development are linked with the evolutionary roots of our human nature.

Keywords: evolution, human nature, self-determination theory, autonomy, eudaimonia, selfishness, aggression, benevolence, prosocial behavior

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