Chapter 14: Altruism and Cooperation
Altruism: Unselfish behavior that benefits others without regard to consequences for the self.
Ex.1. Wesley Autrey jumped on the New York subway tracks to save a fallen man in the face of
an oncoming train. (risked his life for strangers in need)
Ex.2. Paul Rusesabagina, acting manager of the Mille Collines Hotel in Rwanda, saved over a
thousand people from massacre by sheltering them at the hotel, bribing the interahamwe, and
appealing to influential contacts.
Empathic Concern: A case of pure altruism?
1. Selfish motive: Social Rewards motive.
-Social rewards: benefits like praise, positive attention, tangible rewards, honors, and gratitude
that may be gained from helping others.
-altruistic action earns people the esteem and respect of others. (praise, awards, and even
mentions in the media)
2. Second Selfish motive: Personal distress
-Personal distress: a motive for helping those in distress that may arise from a need to reduce our
-people are motivated to help others in need in order to reduce their own distress since they
respond to others’ distress with our own distress
Ex. When we see someone crying, experiencing physical pain, or stuck in an embarrassing
situation, we usually experience our own feelings of personal distress. Neuroscientifically, when
we watch someone else experience pain, the pain regions of the brain are activated.
-Most direct way to alleviate our own personal distress is to reduce the distress of the other
3. Selfless, other-oriented altruism: Empathic concern
-Empathic concern: identifying with another person- feeling and understanding what that person
is experiencing- accompanied by the intention to help the person in need.
- when we encounter another person in need, we imagine what that person must be experiencing.
It results in an empathic state of concern, which motivates us to help that person even at our
Ex. Wesley Autrey, and Paul Rusesabagina Empathy vs. personal distress
-first study: the selfish motive of reducing personal distress against the motive of empathic
concern by allowing participants to escape their aversive arousal by simply leaving the
experiment. If participants still helped, they must have been motivated by empathic concern.
participants who mostly felt distress and could escape the situation took few shocks on behalf
of the confederate.
Participants who felt empathic concern, volunteered to take more shocks even when they
could simply leave the study.
empathic concern was not manipulated; Selection bias (high-empathy participants might
just be more helpful in general for reasons other than a selfless response to the
confederate in need)
the experimenter knew how the participant acted, so a social rewards account of this
study cannot be ruled out.
-second study: asked female participants to form an impression of Janet based on some
information that person wrote while seated in another cubicle.
In low-empathy condition, participant was told to be as objective as possible when reading the
notes, to concentrate on the facts at hand.
In high-empathy condition, the participant was told to imagine as vividly as possible how the
other person felt.
-then the experimenter gave the participant a form that described another long-term relationship
study and asked whether the participant would like to spend time with Janet.
In low-social evaluation, Janet’s notes were delivered in sealed envelopes and not read or
known by the experimenter. Participants indicated how much time she would spend with Janet
on a form that she enclosed in a sealed envelope.
In high-social evaluation, the experimenter and the participant read Janet’s notes and Janet and
the experimenter were privy to the participant’s indication of how much time she would spend
Even in anonymous condition where no social reward can be gained, empathy promotes
altruistic behavior. Physiological indicators of empathy
-final study: assessing whether some kind of selfless state motivates altruistic behavior.
-showed a videotape of a woman and her children who had recently been in an accident to
second graders, fifth graders, or college students and their facial expressions were recorded, and
heart rate was measured continuously.
students who felt sympathy and concern showed eyebrows that were pulled in and upward, a
concerned gaze, and heart rate deceleration. More likely to help
students who reported distress showed a pained wince in the face and heart rate acceleration.
Less likely to help
Empathic concern produces more helping behavior than distress.
*Are young adults today less empathetic than those a generation ago?
-people who often feel high levels of empathic concern tend to be interested in other people; they
have more positive attitudes toward other species, and they act in more prosocial ways (give
money to homeless people, carry someone’s belongings, volunteer for charity, and return
-College students’ reports of how much empathy they feel for other people have dropped
significantly over the last 30 years.
Empathic concern and volunteerism
-Volunteerism: nonmonetary assistance an individual regularly provides to another person or
group with no expectation of compensation.
-motives for volunteerism: a desire for social rewards, a desire to reduce personal distress, and
self-reports of feelings of empathic concern.
-volunteerism is good for your health. It increases longevity.
Ex. Interviews of 100 rescuers from World War II, who risked their lives to save Jews during the
Nazi Holocaust. Rescuers reported that altruism and compassion were a central theme in their
homes. Empathic concern is a powerful force for good in human societies and can be passed
from parents to children. Situational Determinants of Altruism
-Kitty Genovese was a young woman who was stalked and killed in Queens, New York in front
of her apartment as her neighbors watched from their windows and failed to intervene.
Darley and Batson’s Good Samaritan Study
Ex.1. Study by John Darley and Daniel Batson based on different reactions to a man who has
been robbed, stripped, and left in a ditch. Priest, and Levite fails to stop and help the man, but a
resident of Samaria, a member of a group that followed different religious customs and was
despised by mainstream society, helps the man, takes him to an inn, and provides money for
clothes and food to restore the victim’s strength. subtle situational factors, such as whether
you are on time or late, powerfully determine whether you will help someone in need.
Ex.2. Students attending Princeton Theological Seminary to give a talk to undergraduate students
at another location on the Princeton Campus. In no-hurry condition, participants were told they
had plenty of time to get to the designated room. In high-hurry condition, the students were told
they were already a bit late for the students waiting to hear their words of wisdom. As the
students crossed the campus, their path led them past a man who was slumped over and groaning
in a passageway. students who were not in a hurry were more than 6 times as likely to stop and
attend to the suffering man as those who were in a hurry. (largest effect was produced by the
most subtle of variables: whether or not the students were late.)
-Bystander intervention: giving assistance to someone in need on the part of those who have
witnessed an emergency. Bystander intervention is generally reduced as the number of observers
increases, because each person feels that someone else will probably help.
-Diffusion of responsibility: a reduction of the sense of urgency to help someone involved in an
emergency or dangerous situation under the assumption that others who are also observing the
situation will help.
Ex. The witnesses of the Kitty Genovese murder have assumed that someone else would help.
The end result is a disturbing lack of action.
-Studies of audience effects have typically examined whether the presence of strangers reduces
helping behavior. The presence of friends increases altruistic action. Ex. Soldiers risk their lives
to save their combat buddies.
*Likelihood of being helped
-when participants thought they were alone, they helped 85% of the time. -when there had been 2 bystanders, participants intervened 62% of the time. (probability of
receiving help = 1 – 0.38^2 = 0.86) The victim would have received help 86 percent of the time.
-when there had been 5 bystanders, participants intervened 31% of the time. (probability of
receiving help = 1 – 0.69^5 = 0.85) The victim would have received help 85% of the time.
although percentages of receiving help are the same, single bystanders act more quickly than
the quickest person to react in a group of bystanders. A lack of speed can kill in emergency.
-One powerful determinant of helping is whether anything about the victim suggests that it might
be costly to render assistance.
Ex. Study carried out on a subway train in Philadelphia, a victim staggered across the car,
collapsed to the floor and then stared up at the ceiling.
blood was seen to flow from the victim’s chin: received help 65%
no blood: received help 95% of the time.
Even though the bleeding victim’s need was more apparent, the likely costs of helping
inhibited altruistic intervention.
-Gender of the victim matters. Women receive more help than men. More attractive women and
women dressed in feminine attire tend to receive more help.
Ex. Women dressed in feminine attire fit the gender stereotype of being more dependent and
helpless. Also, male passersby may view their intervention as a foot in the door for a possible
romantic involvement with an attractive woman in need.
-More likely to help similar others, including those from their own racial or ethnic group.
Ex. African-Americans responded with greater empathy(medial prefrontal cortex) and more
altruistic inclinations when viewing the suffering of African-Americans as opposed to European-
Construal Processes and Altruism
-many instances of distress are ambiguous. Ex. A loud dispute between a man and a woman may
be a non-threatening lovers’ spat, or 2 thespians acting out a dramatic scene from a play may be
a group of adolescent boys pummeling a smaller boy.
Helping in Ambiguous situations -People are more likely to help when they are aware of the events leading up to the victim’s
-In less vivid condition, the participant saw only the aftermath of the incident – a confederate just
regaining consciousness. Participants were much more likely to come to the individual’s aid so
that they could understand the full nature of the problem
-Pluralistic Ignorance: bystanders are uncertain about what is happening and assume that nothing
is wrong because no one else is responding or appears concerned.
Ex. Researchers asked participants to fill out questionnaires in a lab room in 3 conditions: alone,
in a room with 2 passive confederates, or with two other genuine participants. As they filled out
their questionnaire, smoke started to filter into the room from beneath a door, filling the lab
In condition 1: since there was no input , 75% left the room and reported the smoke to the
In condition 2: participants were less likely to assume that something was amiss. (pluralistic
In condition 3: only 38% left to report the smoke.
Participants construed the smoke differently in the 3 conditions
Combating Pluralistic Ignorance
-bystanders are less likely to fall prey to pluralistic ignorance when they can clearly see one
another’s initial expressions of concern.
Ex. A study in which participants were led through a construction filled hallway(several stacks
of wooden frames used in construction) to a lab. In the lab, they were to do their best drawing of
a model horse in 3 conditions: alone, 2 participants were seated facing each other, and
participants were seated back to back. When they heard a loud crash and the workman crying
out, “Oh, my leg!”
in condition 1: 90% left the room to help the workman.
In condition 2: 80%
In condition 3: 20%,
Seeing others’ spontaneous emotional expressions reduces the effects of pluralistic
ignorance. -how to improve the chances of getting help? 1. Make your need clear (thereby eliminating the
effect of pluralistic ignorance) 2. Select a specific person.(thereby overcoming diffusion of
Culture and Altruism
Altruism in Urban and Rural Settings
-people in the rural areas report higher levels of empathic concern. Strangers are significantly
more likely to be helped in rural communities than in urban areas.
Ex. Helping rates in communities of different sizes, ranging from fewer than 1000 to more than 1
million. you are much more likely to be helped in a town of 1000 than of 5000; in a town of
5000 than of 10,000 and so on. Once the population rises above 50,000, there is no effect of
increasing population. Participant’s current context, rural or urban, was a much stronger
predictor of helping behavior than the person’s rural or urban background.
1. As you walk down a city street for example, the traffic, the construction, the swarms of
people are, in combination, too much to take in fully. There are simply too many inputs,
so you shut down a bit and are less likely to attend to the needs of others and less likely to
2. People are more likely to help others who are similar to themselves. Urban areas are
made up of more diverse populations. So you are more likely to encounter someone