Theories of the Development of Altruism: Review, Comparison and Integration

Ruth Sharabany, Daniel Bar-Tal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper reviews four approaches regarding the development of altruism and proposes an integrative framework. In the first, the evolutionary approach, the focus is on the biological and social conditions which enhance altruistic behavior. In the second reviewed approach, the psychoanalytic, altruistic behavior is seen as an outcome of emotional growth of the individual and as being influenced by the interaction of intra-psychic forces. The third approach, social learning, emphasizes the external conditions which lead to learning of altruistic behavior. This approach considers the use of reinforcement and modeling as principal mechanisms for perpetuating altruistic behavior. Finally, the cognitive developmental approach postulates that altruistic development is a function of the level of cognition; social perspective, and moral development attained by the individual. The four approaches are compared in terms of three general issues: the origin of altruism, the conception of altruism as a state or as a trait, and individual differences in altruism. Analysis of the approaches suggests that each of them refers to a different unit of analysis and that, therefore, the four approaches can be viewed as complementing each other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-80
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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