Pathological Altruism-An Introduction

Barbara Oakley*, Ariel Knafo, Michael McGrath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Many harmful deeds-from codependency to suicide martyrdom to genocide-are committed with the altruistic intention of helping companions or one's own in-group. Thus, it is worthwhile to study how well-meaning altruism can shade into pathology. In essence, pathological altruism might be thought of as any behavior or personal tendency in which either the stated aim or the implied motivation is to promote the welfare of another. But instead of overall beneficial outcomes, this altruism instead has irrational (from the point of view of an outside observer) and substantial negative consequences to the other or even to the self. This introductory chapter provides a broad perspective that presents psychological, neuropsychological, biological, and evolutionary approaches that help account for pathologically altruistic behavior, and goes on to discuss its diverse and profound societal implications. The result is a nuanced counterbalance to the study of altruism and a call for further research.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationPathological Altruism
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199918669
ISBN (Print)9780199738571
StatePublished - 19 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press, 2014.


  • Behavior
  • Biology
  • Evolution
  • Genetics
  • Pathological altruism


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