Yale University’s David Rand and his colleagues reveal that risking one’s life for strangers is a result of ‘Acting First and Thinking Later’. In other words, people don’t deliberately risk their own lives to save a stranger’s life. This conclusion comes from an analysis the team conducted of more than 50 recognized civilian heroes.

The team recruited hundreds of participants to rate their 51 statements made during their published interviews by the recipients of the Carnegie Hero Medal. An honor that Is given to civilians who risk their lives to save strangers.

Using participant’s own analysis as well as computer text analysis algorithm, researchers analyzed those statements in the interviews. The objective of this experiment was to look for the evidence of whether the medal winners describe their own acts as deliberate or intuitive.

The statements were judged to be intuitive by both participants and text analysis even in situations where the lifesaver would have enough time to deliberate before acting. Participants also rated the medal’s winners’ testimonies as similar to sample “control” intuitive statements and rated them more intuitive than sample deliberate statements.

The results suggest that extreme altruism maybe largely motivated by automatic, intuitive processes. Although it is not clear if intuitive responses are genetically hard-coded, but its very unlikely that they are.

Dr. Rand believes people learn that helping others is typically in their own long-term self interest. Thus, intuitive habits like this develop as habits of cooperation rather than an innate cooperative instinct that was preserved in social humans’ nature during the course of evolution.

“We wondered if people who act with extreme altruism do so without thinking, or if conscious self-control is needed to override negative emotions like fear. Our analyses show that overwhelmingly, extreme altruists report acting first and thinking later,” said David Rand.