Though, this seem obvious, we actually have the propensity to be both altruistic and selfish, even though in our economy and in science, we have assumed that all actions are truly selfish in one way or another.
A review by Iain Mcgilchrist discusses the nature of true altruism and its place in our brain.
Altruism and Selfishness
“Our sense of justice is underwritten by the right hemisphere, particularly by the right dorsolateral prefontral cortex. With inactivation of this area, we act more selfishly. This is probably related to the right frontal lobe’s capcity to see the other’s point of view, and for empathy in general.”
“The right frontal lobe’s capacity to inhibit our natural impulse to selfishness means that it is also the area on which we most rely for self-control and the power to resist temptation.”
“The left hemisphere ‘stickiness’, its tendency to recur to what it is familiar with, tends to reinforce whatever it is already doing. There is a reflexivity to the process, as if trapped in a hall of mirrors: it only discovers more of what it already knows, and it only does more of what it already is doing. THe right hemisphere by contrast, seeing more of the picture, and taking a broader perspective that characteristically includes both its own and the left hemisphere’s, is more reciprocally inclined, and more likely to espouse another point of view. “