Intro: Are humans naturally good? Or naturally evil? People have been asking this question for thousands of years. And the answer is still unclear. But we know more about human nature now than ever before. So let’s take a look at these 13 secret facts about human nature and decide for yourself. Are humans good or evil?
One, We Make Harsh Assumptions
When someone does a bad thing, you assume they’re a bad person. But when you do the same thing, you blame your environment instead of yourself. This is called actor-observer asymmetry, and it’s a fundamental part of human nature. We make false attributions about others… while cutting ourselves plenty of slack.
Two, We Enjoy Distress… Sometimes
Are humans cruel by nature? According to a 2013 study by Rudolph and others, humans relish the distress of other humans… but only if we think they deserve it. Imagine a supervillain getting beat up by a superhero. We enjoy watching this character suffer, because they did something bad. But what if the villain was attacking the hero? We judge that hero as morally good. Instead of pleasure, we would feel anger or pain. So yes, we do enjoy the suffering of others… but only under the right circumstances.
Three, We Ignore Facts
What’s the best way to make an argument? Most people think facts and figures are the most compelling points out there. However, according to a study by Lord and others, humans are too narrow-minded by nature. If someone presents us with sound evidence, we’re likely to ignore the facts and stick to our original point of view.
Four, We Believe in Justice
Is the world a fair place? The facts say no, but human nature says yes. As children, we believe the world is just and fair. The good are rewarded. And the bad are punished.
As you grow up, you learn that the world is more complicated than you thought. But you still believe life is fair in the end. When you see someone suffering, you convince yourself that they deserved it. You assume that all pain is warranted, and all hardship is self-imposed. By nature, humans believe in a just world… even if the world isn’t just at all.
Five, We Are Empathetic
Humans are predators, sitting at the top of the food chain. But does that mean we are violent by nature? Our history is filled with bloodshed, cruelty, and war. But one biological discovery proves that humans are built to help each other, not hurt each other.
According to a 2015 study by Lamm and Majdandzic, the human brain contains mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are special nerve cells in the brain that instinctively activate when you share a feeling or behavior with someone else. Your mirror neurons connect you to the world around you and create a complex emotion called empathy. While humans can learn to be violent, empathy is ingrained within our nature.
Six, We Demand Fairness
A 2008 study by Valdesolo and DeSteno researched people who judge others. While they freely attack and shame other people for their mistakes, these people rarely pay any attention to their own issues. In other words, we expect the world to be fair… but we allow ourselves to be selfish.
Seven, We Are Stronger As Women
According to a 2008 book by Dacey and Travers, one biological sex is actually stronger than the other. Men are typically taller and more muscular, but women have structural and biological advantages. Dacey and Travers explain that women are less vulnerable to defects and disease than men. Why? Because XY is a far more fragile pairing than XX. Despite what our society might say, women are the stronger sex by nature.
Eight, We Hate Being Bored
Would you rather shock yourself or spend 15 minutes sitting in silence? In 2014, Wilson and others found that most people would rather shock themselves. By nature, humans search for any way to avoid being bored. Even if that means hurting yourself in the process.
Nine, We Search for Balance
When problems happen inside your body, you naturally regenerate and stabilize. Your body is always trying to return to its natural state: a state of harmony and balance throughout the body. No matter what’s happening—from physical injury to overwhelming stress—your body and brain are always searching for balance.
Ten, We Are Overconfident
Are you smarter than the average person? Most people say yes, but they’re usually wrong. People who think they’re smart are often the least intelligent. This bias, called the Dunning Kruger effect, is just one of many different ways that humans overestimate their own capabilities. We do the same thing with morality, kindness, and trustworthiness. In other words, humans are overconfident by nature.
Eleven, We Are Attracted to Darkness
Why do we fall for mysterious people? Troubled and dangerous souls have long attracted people of all orientations. Think about traits like self-interest, insensitivity, and impulsiveness. These traits are strongly associated with severe personality disorders like psychopathy. But they’re also considered highly attractive.
Twelve, We Are Easily Intimidated
Like many species, human leaders may gain power through intimidation. Humans naturally surrender to and support individuals who scare or overpower them. Even if a leader isn’t right for the job, they may intimidate their way to the top.
Thirteen, We Abuse Anonymity
Have you ever wondered why so many mean comments are left online? Humans are generally ethical… when we know someone else is watching. But when we become anonymous, we’re more likely to betray our own values.
Has human nature ever gotten the best of you? Do you think humans are naturally good or naturally evil? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading!
Written By Tristan Reed
Lamm, C. & Majdandzic, J. (2015) The role of shared neural activations, mirror neurons, and morality in empathy – A critical comment. Neuroscience Research, 90, 15-24.
Dacey, J.S., Travers, J. (2006). Human Development Across the Lifespan: Sixth Edition. McGraw Hill: Boston.
Winerman, L. (2005). The mind’s mirror. Monitor on Psychology: American Psychological Association, 36 (9), p. 48.
Schulz, K., Rudolph, A., Tscharaktschiew, N., & Rudolph, U. (2013). Daniel has fallen into a muddy puddle—Schadenfreude or sympathy? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 363–378
Lord, C. G., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(11), 2098–2109.
Valdesolo, P. & DeSteno, D. (2008) The duality of virtue: Deconstructing the moral hypocrite, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5): 1334-1338.