A Contextual Behavioral Approach to Pathological Altruism

Book Section (Chapter)

© Oxford University Press, 2014. This chapter argues that maladaptive patterns of behavior, such as pathological altruism, can be explained by the influence of the verbal/cultural context. Once established, those maladaptive patterns can be very pervasive, regardless of their lack of apparent benefit. The chapter presents an evolutionarily consistent approach to language and cognition in which the cultural environment precisely selects certain patterns of behavior that, although useful for the survival of the species, can also keep the individual in a vicious cycle of behavior that can damage himself as well as others. The chapter describes four processes that may be key to pathological altruism: experiential avoidance, perspectivetaking, values-based actions, and conceptualized self. The human species is characterized by high levels of adaptability. However, it is crucial not to underestimate the complexity of verbal and cultural influences, and to create models that allow us not only to understand, but to modify them.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Vilardaga, R; Hayes, SC

Cited Editors

  • Oakley, B; Knafo, A; Madhavan, G; Wilson, DS

Published Date

  • January 19, 2012

Book Title

  • Pathological Altruism

Start / End Page

  • 31 - 48

Published By

Place of Publication

  • New York

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780199738571

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.003.0033