Altruistic Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Altruistic is one of the most powerful and exciting words in the English language. This is altruistic’s meaning and how to use it!

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Truly unselfish people are few and far between. While nearly everyone has good qualities and passions, people that exhibit selflessness in every aspect of life are rare. 

People who have this particular trait exhibit altruism. Beyond being something that we see in life, it’s also a trait that has been studied in scientific studies and throughout history. This extreme regard for the welfare of others is truly fascinating to normal people, biologists, and historians alike. 

This is what altruism is, where the word comes from, and why it’s important to know its meaning. Even if it’s not a word that you hear every day, knowing how, when, and why to use it can give you a serious edge in understanding sociology and people at large! 

What Does Altruistic Mean? 

Fundamentally, altruism (altru-ism) or being altruistic (ˌæltruˈɪstɪk) involves exhibiting helping behaviors and unselfish concern for the well-being of others without self-interest. In layman’s terms, it’s the idea and action of wanting to help and serve others without expectations of reciprocity or trying to serve one’s own needs. An altruistic action is almost always seen as one of the kindest things a person can do because it goes far beyond typical societal expectations of kindness. 

Altruistic behavior is commonly seen as a curiosity within evolutionary theory. While almost all living creatures are focused on ways to help themselves, acts of altruism often come at the detriment of survival and success. Despite that, many people and creatures in history have exhibited altruistic behavior. These altruistic acts of kindness are fascinating within history and sociology. 

When learning a word, it’s often helpful to look at synonyms and antonyms. Some popular words that share meanings with altruistic include unselfish, selfless, generous, benevolent, humanitarian, philanthropic, magnanimous, compassionate, and charitable.

Antonyms include selfish, egotistical, insensitive, greedy, unmindful, self-serving, inconsiderate, egoism, and uncaring. While these words may not mean exactly the same or opposite as altrusitic, they deeply aid in understanding what altruistic means. 

Where Does the Word Altruistic Come From? 

While many words in the English language have a long and complicated history, the etymology of the word altruistic is fairly simple. 

The word began, like many other words, in ancient Latin. At first, it was a compound word of two other words — alteri and huic, which translates to “to this other.” As time went on and Latin shifted into Italian, the word became altrui, which means “somebody else.” From Italian, the word was transposed into the French word altruisme, which retains the same meaning. 

As biology and studies of animals and their behavior became more and more popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the word was introduced into the English language as “altruism.” 

What Is the Scientific Meaning of Altruistic? 

As time has passed, social psychologists have become interested in altruism. While we don’t have all of the answers to why altruism is such an important part of human and animal life, we have learned more about how it works. 

Altruism is an aspect of prosocial behavior, which is a kind of behavior that occurs with the intention to consciously benefit others. This can lead to evolutionary benefits over time. Many scientists believe that prosocial characteristics and traits are related to genetics, brain-based rewards, and social norms that have evolved over the course of thousands of years. 

There are also multiple different kinds of altruism. There is reciprocal altruism, which is based on mutual favors in a give-and-take relationship. There is group selection or kin selection altruism, based on a person’s preference for a specific kind or group of people they want to help. Finally, there is pure altruism, which is based on simply helping someone out for the pure altruistic reasons of just being helpful and kind. 

While altruism is a fairly complex idea, especially within the confines of science, it’s a critical part of human society.


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  1. ALTRUISM | Cambridge English Dictionary
  2. Altruism Definition & Meaning | Britannica
  3. Altruism Definition & Meaning |