Generosity and the physiology of maternal care

Stephanie Brown

I first became interested in the science of generosity while I was working with Robert Cialdini as a second year graduate student. Dr. Cialdini was involved in a debate with Daniel Batson about whether altruism exists, and Dr. Cialdini came to me to ask whether I would like to collaborate with him on a project that would examine the evolutionary basis of motivational mechanisms that direct altruism. Insights from that work and from a serendipitous talk given by Frans de Waal led me to begin working on a new evolutionary theory of altruism, one that recast the functional significance of close relationships—as designed to help individuals suppress self interest when necessary to prioritize the wellbeing of another person. As I developed the theory, it became increasingly clear that animal models of maternal care, developed by Michael Numan, were especially well-suited to explain the physiological mechanisms that link close relationships and altruism, with important implications for health.

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