PSYC 2120 Lecture Notes - Social Exchange Theory, Pluralistic Ignorance

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PSYC 2120 Chapter 10: Prosocial Behaviour
Why do people help?
- Prosocial behaviour, any act performed with the goal of benefiting another person
- Altruism, a prosocial behaviour which is the desire to help another person, even if it
involves a cost to the helper
- According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection favours genes that
promote the survival of the individual. Any gene that furthers our survival and increases
the probability that we will produce offspring is likely to be passed on from generation to
generation. Genes that lower our chances of survival, such as those that cause life
threatening diseases, reduce the chances that we will produce offspring and thus are less
likely to passed on
- Over the centuries, altruistic behaviour would disappear because people who acted that
way would, by putting themselves at risk, produce fewer offspring than would people
who acted selfishly
- Evolutionary psychologists believe that people help others because of three factors that
have become ingrained in our genes: kin selection, the norm of reciprocity, and the ability
to learn and follow social norms
- One way that evolutionary psychologists attempt to resolve this dilemma is with the
notion of kin selection, the idea that behaviour that help a genetic relative are favoured
by natural selection. People can increase the chances that their genes will be passed along
not only by having their own children but also by ensuring that their genetic relatives
have children
- According to evolutionary theory, however, the genes of people who follow this
biological importance rule are more likely to survive than the genes of people who do
not. Thus, they argue that over the millennia, kin selection became ingrained in human
- To explain altruism, evolutionary psychologists also point to the norm of reciprocity,
which is the expectation that helping others will increase the likelihood that they will help
us in the future
- Those who were most likely to survive, the argument goes, were people who developed
an understanding with their neighbours about reciprocity: “I will help you now, with the
agreement that when I need help, you will return the favour”
- Also it is highly adaptive for individuals to learn social norms from other member of
society. Through natural selection, the ability to learn social norms has become part of
our genetic makeup. One norm that people learn is the value of helping others. In short,
people are genetically programmed to learn social norms, and one of these norms is
- Social exchange theory, argues that much of what we do stems from the desire to
maximize our rewards and minimize our costs. By helping others, their genes will be
passed on (reward). However helping can also be costly, helping decreases when the
costs are high, as when it would put us in physical danger, results in pain or
- Pure altruism is likely to come into play when we feel Empathy, the ability to experience
events and emotions (joy or sadness) the way another person experiences them
- Empathy altruism hypothesis, the idea that when we feel empathy for a person, we will
attempt to help him or her purely for altruistic reasons, regardless of what we have to
- To sum up we’ve identified three basic motives underlying prosocial behaviour:
1. Helping is an instinctive reaction to promote the welfare of those genetically similar to
us (evolutionary psychology)
2. The rewards of helping often outweigh the costs, so helping is in our self interests
(social exchange theory)
3. Under some conditions, powerful feelings of empathy and compassion for the victim
prompt selfless giving (the empathy altruism hypothesis)
Personal determinants of prosocial behaviour: why do some people help more than others?
- Altruistic personality, aspects of a person’s makeup that cause him or her to help others
in a wide variety of situations
- Gender is another personal factor that comes to play. Although one sex is not more
altruistic than the other, the ways in which men and women help often differ, with men
more likely to help in heroic ways and women more likely to help in nurturing ways that
involve a long term commitment.
- People’s cultural background also matters. Compared with members of individualist
cultures, members of interdependent cultures are more likely to help people they view as
members of their in group but are less likely to help people they view as members of an
out group
- Mood also affects helping. Increasingly, being in either a good or bad mood, compared
with being in a natural mood can increase helping
- Good moods increase helping for several reasons, including the fact that they allow us to
see the good side of other people, making us more willing to help them. Bad moods can
also increase helping
- According to the negative relief hypothesis, helping someone makes us feel good, lifting
us out of the doldrums
Situational determinants of prosocial behaviour: when will people help?
- Situational determinants of prosocial behaviour include rural verses urban environments,
with helping behaviour more likely to occur in rural settings
- Urban overload hypothesis, the theory that because people living in cities are constantly
being bombarded with stimulation, they keep to themselves in order to avoid being
overloaded by it
- The bystander effect specifies the impact of the number of bystanders on whether help is
given: the fewer the bystanders, the better
- The bystander decision model indicates that a potential helper must proceed through five
steps before providing help:
1. Notice the event
2. Interpret the event as an emergency (here, pluralistic ignorance can occur, whereby
everyone assumes nothing is wrong, because no one else looks concerned)
3. Assume personal responsibility (here, a diffusion of responsibility created by several
bystanders may lead us to think it’s not our responsibility to act)
4. Know how to help
5. Implement the help
How can helping be increased?
- The nature of relationship between the helper and the person in need is also an important
determinant of helping. In exchange relationships, people are concerned with equity and
they keep track of who is contributing what to the relationship
- In communal relationships, people are concerned less with who gets what and more
concerned with responding to other person’s needs
- One way to increase helping is for parents to reward their children for helping. Rewards
must be used carefully, however, or they will undermine the child’s intrinsic interest in
helping, causing an over justification effect
- Children also are more likely to be helpful when they observe adults engaging in helpful
- Finally, research has indicated that teaching people about the determinants of prosocial
behaviour makes them more aware of why they sometimes don’t help, with the happy
result that they help more in the future