Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

pp 1-12

Date: Latest Version

High-Cost Altruistic Helping

  • Hannes RuschAffiliated withPublic Economics Group, University of MarburgPeter Löscher Chair of Business Ethics, TU München Email author 


Heroism in war and civil life; High-cost helping; High-stakes altruism


In acts of high-cost altruistic helping, substantial risks to the own well-being or considerable losses of social and/or economic capital are voluntarily incurred in order to benefit others.


Thomas H. McCann was one of the first recipients of the Carnegie Medal for civil heroism. On June 29, 1904, McCann jumped from a bridge 25 ft high into Portland Harbor and dragged Alfonso Sekosky, an 8-year-old boy, to safety on a boat, but was too fatigued to get into it himself and was drowned. McCann’s case is quite representative: since its inception in 1904, the Carnegie Medal has been awarded to almost 10,000 “individuals in the US and Canada who risked their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others” (, September 2016). About 20% of the recipients of the Carnegie Medal did not survive their attempts to help others (Becker and Eagly 2004).

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