Risking Your Life Without a Second Thought: Intuitive Decision-Making and Extreme Altruism

Forthcoming in PLoS ONE

14 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2014 Last revised: 23 Sep 2014

See all articles by David G. Rand

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Ziv Epstein

Claremont Colleges - Pomona College

Date Written: September 5, 2014


When faced with the chance to help someone in mortal danger, what is our first response? Do we leap into action, only later considering the risks to ourselves? Or must instinctive self-preservation be overcome by will-power in order to act? We investigate this question by examining the testimony of Carnegie Hero Medal Recipients (CHMRs), extreme altruists who risked their lives to save others. We collected published interviews with CHMRs where they described their decisions to help. We then had participants rate the intuitiveness versus deliberativeness of the decision-making process described in each CHMR statement. The statements were judged to be overwhelmingly dominated by intuition; to be significantly more intuitive than a set of control statements describing deliberative decision-making; and to not differ significantly from a set of intuitive control statements. This remained true when restricting to scenarios in which the CHMRs had sufficient time to reflect before acting if they had so chosen. Text-analysis software found similar results. These findings suggest that high-stakes extreme altruism may be largely motivated by automatic, intuitive processes.

Keywords: altruism, intuition, dual process, cooperation, social heuristics, archival

JEL Classification: C70, C79, C90, C91, C92, D64, D70, D71, H41

Suggested Citation

Rand, David G. and Epstein, Ziv, Risking Your Life Without a Second Thought: Intuitive Decision-Making and Extreme Altruism (September 5, 2014). Forthcoming in PLoS ONE, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2424036 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2424036

David G. Rand (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.daverand.org

Ziv Epstein

Claremont Colleges - Pomona College ( email )

Claremont, CA 91711
United States

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