Altruism is a description used when we act on behalf of others (even towards those unfamiliar to us) and we do so selflessly and at cost to ourselves. Giving your seat up on the bus, intervening in a conflict, volunteering to watch a neighbour’s child, donating a kidney, and fighting a fire are examples of altruism that range from the everyday to the extraordinary. And while altruistic motivations are complex, the precursor to altruism is “helping”.
Studies of very young children show significant developmental transitions throughout the first two years of life as “helping behaviours” expand with empathy.
In this interview, Dr. Felix Warneken debunks the myth that children are born selfish and society must “train up children” to become altruistic. In his research lab  at Harvard University, toddlers as young as 14 months show spontaneous helping tendencies; the precursor to altruism.
Altruism, as defined by Harvard researcher Dr. Felix Warneken, is our willingness to help others in need, "often in the absence of immediate personal gain and occasionally even at great cost to ourselves."
Researchers Svetlova, Nichols, and Brownell examined how prosocial behaviours change over toddlerhood. Findings suggest that over the second year of life, prosocial behaviour develops from explicit communication to understanding others' emotions from subtle cues.
Dr. Warneken studies both human children as well as young chimpanzees. His work has shown that young human children and young chimpanzees both help others to achieve their goals in a variety of situation. These results suggest at an evolutionary root to altruism.