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Lecture 2

PSY220H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Prosocial Behavior, Social Exchange Theory, Empathic Concern

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Jason Plaks

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Is there such thing as “true” altruism? Helping someone with no reward in return
1 view: no such thing as altruism, everything if for self-interest, or kin-selection
2 view: altruism exists, humans have something special (mother Theresa)
Why do people help?
1. Learning reinforced for helping in the past (modelling, reward/punishment)
2. arousal
3. norms
1. Behaviourism: Helping is the by-product of the individual’s conditioning
history. “altruism” vs. “prosocial behavior
-Prosocial behavior that benefits another individual
-Altruism is prosocial behavior that requires no reward
2. Arousal model: A prominent one is the cost-reward model (Dovidio et al., 1991;
Piliavin et al., 1981).
1. Seeing distress of another person activates arousal
a. We don’t show any particular emotion
b. Arousal is neutral, associated with many emotions, positive/negative,
c. Depends on what person labels arousal as
2. If this arousal is attributed to the other person’s distress – unpleasant
3. Therefore person is motivated to reduce the unpleasantness (e.g., by helping)
a. Social exchange theory: inner rewards
Cialdini et al. (1987) “negative state relief model”:
1. arousal
2. labeling that arousal with a particular emotion
3. the label that’s generated is cued by situational features
Cialdini et al. (1987) found that people are less likely to help someone if immediately
before the opportunity to help they receive praise or money, or if people are led to believe
that helping does not improve mood.
Helping only to make self feel better. If you were feeling good right before, negative
emotions from seeing another person’s distress no attributed to self, more likely to help.
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Does Cialdini believe in pure altruism? NO, egoistic helping
Egoism vs. altruism
Batson (1991) “empathy-altruism hypothesis”
1. negative state relief does occur, but:
2. so can perspective-taking, which leads to empathic concern seeing other
people’s perspective, sympathy and compassion
a. people with high empathy still more prone to help even when there are
opportunities to not take responsibility
3. there are individual differences: for a certain (significant) subset of subjects,
receiving rewards before the helping opportunity did not diminish their
likelihood of helping.
Batson (1981)
-Upon arrival, Ps told that upcoming study involves people’s task performance under
unpleasant conditions. One of the Ps will perform a task while receiving mild electric
shocks, the other will observe.
-Lots drawn (actually rigged) you win, other “subject” (actually a confederate) loses,
gets hooked up to a scary machine.
-After receiving several “trial” shocks, “Elaine” squirms with pain, and tells the
experimenter about a frightening childhood experience when she was thrown from a
horse against an electric fence.
-It’s more unpleasant for her than for the average person, but she’s willing to go on.
-Then: Experimenter has the bright idea: (addressing confederate) “Maybe since your
case is unusual, it would be better for you to trade places with the other subject?
-SO: Would subjects be willing to suffer in place of someone else?
One independent variable: Ease of escape without helping):
"Although the worker will be completing between two and ten trials, it will be
necessary for the observer to observe only the first two."
"The worker will be completing between two and ten trials, all of which the
observer will observe." Difficult escape (by you have to watch the other person
All subjects then learned that Elaine
agreed to complete all 10 trials, and they were given the chance to help her by trading
places after the second trial. Therefore, in the easy-escape condition, subjects who did
not help would not have to watch Elaine take any more shocks; in the difficult-escape
condition they would.
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Empathic concern
Ease of escape Hi Lo
Difficult more help less help
Easy more help least help
- Regardless of whether it was easy or hard to escape watching Elaine suffer, the
empathic group wanted to help and said they would take her place. Ease of
escape didn’t really matter here. These people are being altruistic
- Those in the low empathy group only helped when it was difficult to escape
watching her they had little choice
- Low empathy group most likely helped only because they’d feel bad having to sit
through eight more shocks….did it to prevent feeling guilty
- It is the combination of high empathy and EASY ESCAPE (easy NOT to help)
that reflects true altruistic motivation.
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