Biologists define social behavior as one organism interacting with another member of its own species. Humans are very social animals that interact with other members of our own species all the time. And I don’t even want to think about how many more social interactions we can engage in these days with the advent of social media.
Social evolutionists have divided all these social behaviors into four basic categories, based on whether the behavior is good or bad for the organisms involved. Social behavior can be either a benefit or a cost for the organisms: that means good or bad for you, and good or bad for the other person.
Let’s start with lowest, most despicable, category of behavior: spite. Spite is going out of your way to ruin someone else’s day, and benefits nobody.
The second-lowest category of social interaction is called selfish. This benefits you at the cost of the other person, and sometimes this seems to be the most prevalent of human social behaviors. Oftentimes, behavior that seems spiteful may actually be selfish, as some people make themselves feel better by making others feel bad.
Next on the list is altruistic behavior. This is when you go out of your way to help another, sometimes to the extent that you may risk your own life. While this is noble in the eyes of many, it is still not considered the highest form of social behavior, because it still only benefits one of the two organisms.
Finally, the most evolved and beneficial type of social behavior is: cooperation. Cooperation is good for both organisms so that everyone benefits. Cooperation is you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Cooperation is teamwork and working toward a common goal. Cooperation allows organisms to achieve things far greater than they could ever achieve by themselves. Cooperation is truly the highest and most evolved type of social behavior.
So today, when you’re interacting with other members of your own species, whether on social media or in person, ask yourself where your behavior lies. Are you being spiteful or selfish? Are you being altruistic or cooperating? You really can make the world a better place one social interaction at a time.
With a Perspective, I’m J.D. Hager.
J.D. Hager is a writer and middle school science teacher.