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Letters: Caring Too Much? (2 Letters) PDF Print E-mail

Re “The Pathological Altruist Gives Till Someone Hurts” (Basics, Oct. 3): The article describes a doctor who orders a spinal tap on a frail, dying man as altruism.

This is not altruism — pathological or otherwise. This seems to be a doctor who has forgotten that the person before him is a human being and not some inanimate object to be tested and prodded in order to arrive at some conclusion regarding a hypothesis.

The actions of the doctor, and those like him, speak to a broken medical system. Defining the actions as an extreme form of altruism seems to excuse the practice.

Janet Farrell Leontiou

Rye, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Recent research (including my own) finds that most of us don’t suffer from pathological altruism. Instead, Americans increasingly have the opposite problem — becoming more narcissistic and less empathic over time. Studies find that caring predicts psychological and physical health benefits and, ultimately, increased longevity. Yet researchers still don’t understand the boundaries of such findings.

Is it possible to care too much? Probably, but our scientific understanding will move forward when we get beyond arguing that altruism is good or bad, and instead ask under which circumstances, for whom and why, caring is beneficial versus harmful.

Sara Konrath

Ann Arbor, Mich.

The writer is director of the Interdisciplinary Program for Empathy and Altruism Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Science Times welcomes letters from readers. Those submitted for publication must include the writer’s name, address and telephone number. E-mail should be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Send letters to Science Editor, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018.

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