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Pathological Altruism

Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson


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. Therefore it is worthwhile to study how well-meaning altruism can shade into pathology. Although the term pathological altruism has been used to a limited degree in psychodynamic circles, there has been inadequate study of the phenomenon in general, and almost none from a biological, genetic, and evolutionary perspective. In essence, pathological altruism might be thought of as any behavior or personal tendency in which either the stated ... More

Keywords: pathological altruism, behavior, biology, genetics, evolution

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2011 Print ISBN-13: 9780199738571
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012 DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.001.0001


Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Barbara Oakley, editor
Oakland University

Ariel Knafo, editor
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Guruprasad Madhavan, editor
National Academy of Sciences

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Part I the psychology of pathological altruism

Chapter 1 Pathological Altruism—An Introduction

Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, and Michael McGrath

Chapter 2 Empathy-Based Pathogenic Guilt, Pathological Altruism, and Psychopathology

Lynn E. O’Connor, Jack W. Berry, Thomas B. Lewis, and David J. Stiver

Chapter 4 Codependency and Pathological Altruism

Michael McGrath and Barbara Oakley

Part II Psychiatric Implications Of Pathological Altruism

Chapter 6 Pathological Altruism and Personality Disorder

Thomas A. Widiger and Jennifer Ruth Presnall

Chapter 8 Animal Hoarding

Jane N. Nathanson and Gary J. Patronek

Chapter 9 Everyone’s Friend? The Case of Williams Syndrome

Deborah M. Riby, Vicki Bruce, and Ali Jawaid

Part III societal implications of pathological altruism

Chapter 16 Genocide

Augustine Brannigan

Part IV cultural and evolutionary dimensions of pathological altruism

Chapter 22 Culture–Gene Coevolution of Empathy and Altruism

Joan Y. Chiao, Katherine D. Blizinsky, Vani A. Mathur, and Bobby K. Cheon

Chapter 23 The Messianic Effect of Pathological Altruism

Jorge M. Pacheco and Francisco C. Santos

Part V The Development and Underlying Brain Processes of Pathological Altruism

Chapter 25 Empathy, Guilt, and Depression

Carolyn Zahn-Waxler and Carol Van Hulle

Part VI Synthesis of views on pathological altruism

Chapter 30 Altruism Gone Mad

Joachim I. Krueger