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Understanding Altruism

When plain folks do heroic things

(HealthDay) -- The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raise a particularly poignant question about human nature: Why would some people respond with heroic displays of altruism to save people they don't even know?

Why people give up their own lives to save others, even strangers, is a complex question, says one expert in this ABC News story.

Even the definition of altruism is complex, as this xrefer site explains. The Catholic Encyclopedia also has a complicated explanation and history of altruism, a word first coined in 1851.

Altruism even has its own institute, and has been the subject of much research, as this Harvard University research paper shows.

The American Psychological Association has weighed in on the arguments over whether altruism is the result of nature or nurture. Meanwhile, British scientists say they've disproved the notion that some animals are naturally altruistic, says this BBC News story.

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