↑ comment by EdoArad (edoarad) ·
2021-01-11T09:33:42.710Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I tried searching the literature a bit, as I'm sure that there are studies on the relation between rationality and altruistic behavior. The most relevant paper I found (from about 20 minutes of search and reading) is The cognitive basis of social behavior (2015). It seems to agree with your hypothesis. From the abstract:
Applying a dual-process framework to the study of social preferences, we show in two studies that individuals with a more reflective/deliberative cognitive style, as measured by scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), are more likely to make choices consistent with “mild” altruism in simple non-strategic decisions. Such choices increase social welfare by increasing the other person’s payoff at very low or no cost for the individual. The choices of less reflective individuals (i.e. those who rely more heavily on intuition), on the other hand, are more likely to be associated with either egalitarian or spiteful motives. We also identify a negative link between reflection and choices characterized by “strong” altruism, but this result holds only in Study 2. Moreover, we provide evidence that the relationship between social preferences and CRT scores is not driven by general intelligence. We discuss how our results can reconcile some previous conflicting findings on the cognitive basis of social behavior.
Also relevant is This Review (2016) by Rand:
Does cooperating require the inhibition of selfish urges? Or does “rational” self-interest constrain cooperative impulses? I investigated the role of intuition and deliberation in cooperation by meta-analyzing 67 studies in which cognitive-processing manipulations were applied to economic cooperation games. My meta-analysis was guided by the social heuristics hypothesis, which proposes that intuition favors behavior that typically maximizes payoffs, whereas deliberation favors behavior that maximizes one’s payoff in the current situation. Therefore, this theory predicts that deliberation will undermine pure cooperation (i.e., cooperation in settings where there are few future consequences for one’s actions, such that cooperating is not in one’s self-interest) but not strategic cooperation (i.e., cooperation in settings where cooperating can maximize one’s payoff). As predicted, the meta-analysis revealed 17.3% more pure cooperation when intuition was promoted over deliberation, but no significant difference in strategic cooperation between more intuitive and more deliberative conditions.
And This Paper (2016) on Belief in Altruism and Rationality claims that
However, contra our predictions, cognitive reflection was not significantly negatively correlated with belief in altruism (r(285) = .04, p =.52, 95% CI [-.08,.15]).
Where belief in altruism is a measure of how much people believe that other people are acting out of care or compassion to others as opposed to self-interest.
Note: I think that this might be a delicate subject in EA and it might be useful to be more careful about alienating people. I definitely agree that better epistemics is very important to the EA community and to doing good generally and that the ties to the rationalist community probably played (and plays) a very important role, and in fact I think that it is sometimes useful to think of EA as rationality applied to altruism. However, many amazing altruistic people have a totally different view on what would be good epistemics (nevermind the question of "are they right?"), and many people already involved in the EA community seem to have a negative view of (at least some aspects of) the rationality community, both of which call for a more kind and appreciative conversation.
In this shortform post, the most obvious point where I think that this becomes a problem is the example
For example, I find many animal rights activists very annoying, and if I didn’t feel tied to them by virtue of our shared interest in the welfare of animals, I’d be tempted to sneer at them.
This is supposed to be an example of a case where people are not behaving rationally since that would stop them from having fun. You could have used a lot of abstract or personal examples where people in their day to day work are not taking time to think something through or seek negative feedback or update their actions based on (noticing when they) update their beliefs.