Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


This theoretical exploration was undertaken to give consideration to the phenomenon of altruistic action as a potential focus for therapeutic intervention strategies. The very nature of altruism carries with it a fundamentally paradoxical and discrepant conundrum because of the opposing forces that it activates within us; inclinations to put the welfare of others ahead of self-interest are not experienced by the inner self as sound survival planning, though this has historically been a point of contention. Internal and external discrepancies cause psychological dissonance and inner conflict between self-protective strategies and core value constructs, the reconciliation of which is a driving force in our development across cognitive, moral and personality domains. By considering the mechanisms of altruism through the lenses of various dissonance and cognitive-developmental theories, we are provided with the vehicle and engine for altruistic growth and the transcendence of thought-action repertoires from defensive strategies that restrict conscious awareness to strategies that foster and employ it. Furthermore, it is suggested that altruistic action may be an effective catalyst in attaining more authentically altruistic perspectives, other-oriented attitudes, and higher-stage moral development.


Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2008. iii, 105 p. Includes bibliographical references (p. 91-105)