Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

Previous Page


Special Event #61
SQAB Tutorial: A Behavioral Analysis of Altruism
Saturday, May 26, 2012
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
608 (Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Leonard Green (Washington University)
Presenting Authors: : HOWARD RACHLIN (Stony Brook University)

Altruistic acts may been defined as costly acts that confer economic benefits on others. (In behavioral terms: punished acts that reward others.) In prisoner's dilemma games, with human players, a significant number of players behave altruistically; their behavior benefits each of the other players but is costly to them. I propose that such altruism is based on a straightforward balancing of undiscounted costs to themselves against discounted benefits to others (social discounting). I will describe two experiments, using prisoner's dilemma games, that test this explanation of altruism. In one experiment, costs were held constant but the number of others (benefiting from cooperation) varied. In another experiment, with only two players, costs were again constant but the amount of other player's benefit varied directly. In both experiments, cooperation increased as benefits to the other player(s) increased.

HOWARD RACHLIN (Stony Brook University)
Howard Rachlin obtained a Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University in 1965. He is currently a research professor and an Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has published more than 100 articles, written six books including Behavior And Mind (Oxford University Press, 1994) and The Science of Self-Control (Harvard University Press, 2000), and edited two others. He has served on study sections for The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and The National Science Foundation (NSF). He is on the editorial boards of six journals. Since he received his Ph.D. his research (on choice, self-control, social cooperation, and experimental economics) has been continuously supported by grants from NIH and NSF including an NIH MERIT award. Among other honors he has been elected fellow at the American Psychological Society and the Society of Experimental Psychologists. He has been the recipient of a James McKeen Cattell Fellowship (1975-76), and an Award for the Impact of Science on Application from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis (2005). He was a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation (1988-89) and an invited speaker at the Nobel Symposium on Behavioral and Experimental Economics, Stockholm, Sweden (2001).
Keyword(s): Altruism, discounting



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh