A recently published book, Pathological Altruism, states that acts of selflessness can have their limits. According to Barbara Oakley, associate professor of engineering at Oakland University, extreme altruistic behaviors can become pathological. Those who express excessive selflessness appear to do so at the cost and attention of their own needs. As Dr. Oakley aptly states, “there’s always trade-offs.”

Demonstrating Dr. Oakley’s theory is the unhealthy altruism of anorexic patients observed by Rachel Bachner-Melman, clinical psychologist at Hadassah University Medical Center.  “They are terribly sensitive to the needs of those around them,” she says, “[but]…they try to hide their needs or deny their needs or pretend their needs don’t exist.” This sense of denial and ignorance to themselves detrimentally affect not only themselves, but others. In fact, it could blind them to the needs of those who are the focus of their altruistic behaviors.  Pet hoarders, for example, tend to believe that their actions are saving animals’ lives; however, their extreme altruistic behavior may blind them to the fact that they are unable to maintain the number of animals they possess.

Though altruistic behaviors may define humans from other species, they may also be responsible for the behaviors that underlie some of the issues within society.

Young Kwon, Features Writer

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/science/04angier.html?pagewanted=2&ref=science

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