A neuroscientist’s studies show that altruism isn’t always attractive.

Sigal Samuel:

Picture this: You’ve worked hard all year. You’re burned out. Every atom in your brain and body is crying out for a relaxing vacation. Luckily, you and your partner have managed to save up $3,000. You propose a trip to Hawaii — those blue waves are calling your name!

Just one problem: Your partner refuses, arguing that you both should donate the money to charity instead. Think how many malaria-preventing bednets $3,000 could buy for kids in developing countries!

You might find yourself thinking: Why does my partner seem to care more about strangers halfway around the world than about me?

A philosopher would tell you that your partner may be a utilitarian or consequentialist, someone who thinks that an action is moral if it produces good consequences and that everyone equally deserves to benefit from the good, not just those closest to us. By contrast, your response suggests you’re a deontologist, someone who thinks an action is moral if it’s fulfilling a duty — and we have special duties toward special people, like our partners, so we should prioritize our partner’s needs over a stranger’s.