Are Ambitious People Inherently Selfish? (NSQ Ep. 11)
Also: why do we habituate to life’s greatest pleasures?
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Relevant References & Research
Question #1: Is it possible to be both self-interested and altruistic at the same time?
- Stephen references Jonas Salk as an example of someone who was both selfish and prosocial. Salk was a medical researcher who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. The biography that Stephen mentions is Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs.
- Stephen and Angela discuss the work of Adam Smith — the founder of classical economics and author of the 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Russ Roberts explores some of the misunderstood aspects of Smith’s philosophy in his book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.
- Stephen and Angela refer to the warm-glow theory of altruism — an economic theory about the emotional reward of charitable giving.
- Stephen mentions Hillel the Elder, the Jewish sage and namesake of Hillel International. You can read more about the life of Hillel in Joseph Telushkin’s book Hillel: If Not Now, When?
- Angela talks about her once-ongoing debate with psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant. You can learn more about Grant’s perspective on giving in his 2016 TED Talk. Grant was also featured in Freakonomics Radio Ep. 152 “Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing)” and Ep. 306 “How to Launch a Behavior-Change Revolution.”
- Angela brings up the psychologist Jerry Kagan and his research on the moral development of children. You can read more of his work on this topic here.
- Angela mentions the Schwartz Values Survey, a method of measuring human beliefs and principles based on Shalom H. Schwartz’s theory of basic values.
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Question #2: Why do we habituate to life’s greatest pleasures?
- Angela and Stephen discuss Danny Kahneman’s famous study on colonoscopy-related pain perception. You can learn more about the study here.
- Angela references the “Three Good Things” exercise, a positive psychology technique designed to inspire gratitude.
- Angela discusses the origins of habituation literature — to learn more about how this theory was developed, we recommend checking out this article on the history of habituation research.
- Angela references the late psychologist Robert Rescorla, one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of psychology and animal learning.