This Prospect article by the RSA’s Matthew Taylor reviews an impressive amount of socially relevant psychology research. “Human nature is back”, announces Taylor, showing how the “useful shortcut” of the rational actor is now ready to be replaced by an empircally informed model of man as a social, emoitonal, being. Conclusions include
if we want to live an ethical life we do not have to pore over self-help books, but instead choose the social context that is most likely to prompt us to automatic altruism. Blinkered by the idea of humans as entirely driven by self-interest, we believe that altruistic acts must require conscious effort, perhaps as a result of exhortation from leaders. But if we are living balanced lives and enjoy mutual trust with people, behaving well comes naturally.
…susceptibility to social influence is hard-wired in us and not simply a characteristic of those lacking willpower. It may not be as catchy as the original slogan, but “tough on crime, even tougher on the causes of crime”is where the evidence points.
social institutions and cultural taboos are ways in which “generations hand down… vital tacit knowledge about human nature.”…[they] have developed to protect us from our psychological frailties, encouraging us to act long term and be socially responsible. These devices include the family, the church and civic organisations. As we become richer, we mistakenly think we do not need them.
It’s a rich brew of research evidence and political ideas. Perhaps even enough to give us hope, as Taylor claims that “new ideas about human nature can contribute to a more substantive meeting of minds between left and right”