The main difference between altruism and empathy is that altruism refers to the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others while empathy is the ability to understand the circumstance of someone as your own.
Altruism and empathy are related emotions. Therefore, many tend to consider these two as similar. However, they are distinct concepts, and they should be studied well in order to get a thorough understanding of each.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Altruism
– Definition, Nature, Behaviour
2. What is Empathy
– Definition, Nature, Behaviour
3. What is the Relationship Between Altruism and Empathy
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Altruism and Empathy
– Comparison of Key Differences
Altruism, Empathy, Compassion, Feelings, Psychology
What is Altruism
Altruism is defined as the ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” Thus, it is the act of doing good for the wellbeing of others. There is a selfless concern for the well-being of others in altruism, which surpasses the feeling such as sympathy, compassion or empathy. Moreover, it goes to a higher level where you will even risk your life to help someone else.
Furthermore, altruism highlights the ability to risk yourself or sacrifice yourself to alleviate the suffering of another. Therefore, altruism is the philanthropically way of helping someone else without expecting anything in return. If you act altruistically, you wouldn’t even want to be recognized or rewarded by the others for your beneficial and altruistic act on the others.
For instance, consider a situation where someone risks their life to donate one of their kidneys to a patient who suffers from kidney failure and is critically in need of a transplant. That donor considers donating his/her kidney without expecting anything in return. In this situation, he/she risks their life to alleviate the suffering of another. This is the core of altruism.
Moreover, consider situations where you deposit money to the bank account of someone who is seeking financial assistance due to his or her helplessness. Here, you do not expect your charitable act to be rewarded in any way, not even by social recognition. This is a case of altruism. Thus, it simply refers to the unselfish concern for the welfare of the others.
Empathy, compassion and kindness can create altruistic feelings in you to act for the wellbeing of others. Moreover, recent research has found out that when someone acts in an altruistic way, their neurological reactions in your brain is the same to that of when you get pleasure or get rewarded by someone.
What is Empathy
Empathy refers to one’s ability to understand the other person’s circumstance by considering oneself in their circumstance. Consequently, you begin to comprehend their feelings and the pain they are experiencing in life as your own. Thus, you will be eventually driven to help them overcome it somehow or the other.
In other words, since you understand the predicament of someone else’s life as your own, you begin to behave in a more compassionate manner toward them. Therefore, empathy encourages giving a helping hand to someone more naturally, without someone else forcing you or for some other reason. The reason to help them either by sharing their grief or by being there to overcome their grief becomes a reason of your own satisfaction.
Thus, if you feel empathy towards another person, you will help them, regardless of what they can gain from it since you feel that their grief as your own.
Relationship Between Altruism and Empathy
- Feeling empathetic towards the plight of the other person can make you act altruistically towards them.
- Thus, empathy becomes a necessity for altruism to happen.
Difference Between Altruism and Empathy
Altruism is the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others while empathy is the ability to recognise and understand the circumstances or the feelings of another as your own. Therefore, these definitions explain the fundamental difference between altruism and empathy.
Describing the difference between altruism and empathy further, altruism is the charitable emotion to help others without expecting anything, not even recognition in return. In contrast, empathy is the ability to understand the other person’s circumstances and feelings as your own so that you can share it with them easily.
Selfless concern is another difference between altruism and empathy. There is essentially a selfless concern to help others where you will even take a risk to alleviate the suffering of another while there is no selfless concern in empathy since it is the empathetic understanding of the predicament of the other and the ability to share it with them as well.
Altruism and empathy are related since both trigger acts of generosity in someone towards the other. Empathy can be the reason for altruism. Nevertheless, they can be distinguished based on several factors as well. Thus, the main difference between altruism and empathy is that altruism refers to the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others while empathy is the ability to understand the circumstance of someone as your own.
1. “Altruism.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Available here.
2. “Empathy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Available here.
1. “Blood Donation at ITESM CCM” By Albaraac – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “271106” (CC0) via Pexels
3. “50581” (CC0) via Pexels
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