Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Pathological Altruism Just the Opposite Extreme of Autism?

Pathological altruists are often so desperate to help others that they ignore rational arguments that show that their "help" may indeed be harmful. For example, some advocates of the minimum wage laws may be pathological altruists. In the face of logic that shows that minimum wage laws will reduce employment, minimum wage advocates continue to call for higher minimum wages to "help" the poor.

Simon Baron-Cohen holds the theory that pathological altruists may be those that are on the empathy/systemizing spectrum that is at the diametrically opposite extreme of those who suffer from autism.

Baron-Cohen writes in  Pathological Altruism, p. 345, that:
It is thought that children with autism and Aspberger syndrome may...[have]difficulty in understanding other's emotions [but have] strengths in assimilating narrow areas of interests...even superior skill in systemizing...[On the other hand, there may be those] who  have below-average systemizing [skills] alongside...superior empathy...

The individual with an extreme type E profile has difficulties systemizing, and this may mean that occupations such as engineering and mathematics would be avoided...They may well be more likely to empathize with others difficulties, and take on other people's problems more than others might. Whether such "altruism" might become pathological would need to be investigated...At one extreme are individuals who are so self-centered that their altruism is minimal, and at the other extreme are individuals who devote most of their time and attention to others rather than to themselves.

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