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Chapter 10: Helping Others
• Examine evolutionary, motivationally (why), situational (when), personal (who) and interpersonal (whom)
factors that predict whether a potential helper will provide assistance to a person in need.
EVOLUTIONARY & MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS: WHY DO PEOPLE
• Prosocial Behaviours: Actions intended to benefit others.
Evolutionary Factors in Helping
The Selfish Gene
• If a specific social behaviour enhances reproductive success (conception, birth, and survival of offspring),
then the genetic underpinnings of the behaviour are more likely to be passed onto subsequent
• Kin Selection: Preferential helping of genetic relatives, with greater likelihood that genes held in
common will survive. This is an alternative to individual genetic survival. Kin selection is an innate
o E.g. Birds and mammals that emit and alarm to warn nearby relatives of a predator draw attention
to themselves, but help relatives survive.
• Preferential helping of genetic relatives is strongest when the biological stakes are particularly high.
o Fitzgerald (2009): Subjects asked how likely to help friend, half-sibling or sibling in low risk (getting
something from store), medium risk (loaning money) or high risk (save from burning building)
o Low-risk scenario same for friend or sibling. High risk much more willing to help sibling than friend.
o Madsen (2007): Subjects hold a difficult position with their legs longer if the money earned would
go to a close relative than for a friend or a charity.
• Reciprocal Altruism: Helping others (especially nonkin) in the expectation that you will be helped in
return. Both parties being helped increase their chances of survival and reproductive success.
o Seyfarth and Cheney (1984): Vervet monkeys hear recordings of cry for help from either a monkey
who had recently groomed them, or one who had not recently done so. Monkeys significantly more
likely to respond attentively to request for help if the solicitor had groomed them.
o If the solicitor was genetically related, response equally strong whether groomed or not.
• Reciprocity can be negotiated across acts, such as grooming and food sharing.
• Northern Ache people of Paraguay shared virtually all food across households. Households shared more
food with others that reciprocate, even among kin.
• Reciprocal altruism is maintained by the development of norms and the punishment of individuals who
deviate from the norm, especially in groups of nonkin.
• Altruism may operate at a broader level than specific genes or reciprocal relationships between
• Indirect Reciprocity: “I help you and somebody else helps me.”
• Role in group selection, where groups with more altruistic members who cooperate and help each other
are more likely to thrive than groups with only selfish individuals, especially when the group faces an
The Evolution of Morality, Parental Caregiving, and Empathy Page 2 of 9
• Morality may have evolved not merely to constrain us from exhibiting our selfish “animal” nature but
instead due to the social nature of primates.
• Parental caregiving: impulses to care for offspring, usually to help kin survival but may be generalizeable.
o Gorilla Binti Jua who cared for a 3 year-old boy who had fallen into the enclosure and was knocked
unconscious. A mother herself, she kept other gorillas away and turned him over to paramedics.
• Empathy: Understanding or vicariously experiencing another individual’s perspective and feeling
sympathy and compassion for that individual.
o Cognitive component of perspective taking. Emotional component of emphatic concerns.
o Contrast to emphatic concerns is personal distress, self-oriented reactions to a person in need,
such as feeling alarmed, troubled or upset.
• Warneken and Tomasello (2006): This ability of perspective taking can be seen even in infants, who will
help an experimenter who seems unable to reach a goal, e.g. unable to pick up a marker he dropped.
They understood that the experimenter needed help without the experimenter’s direct request or the
promise of a reward.
o Can also differentiate from a similar situation where the experimenter did not need help, e.g.
intentionally throwing the marker on the floor.
o Also seen in young chimpanzees, though not across as many tasks and not as reliably.
• Perspective taking and sympathy in nonhuman primates: consoling behaviour after one has lost a fight,
helping group members up a climbing frame for grooming.
Rewards of Helping: Helping Others to Help Oneself
• People often help others because it is rewarding, psychologically or materially.
• Arousal: Cost-Reward Model suggests that people react to emergency situations by acting in the most
cost-effective way to reduce the arousal of shock and alarm. This involves both emotional factors of
personal distress, and cognitive factors of the calculated costs and rewards associated with helping.
• Helping others can improve both mental and physical health.
• Rilling (2002): Subjects who engage in mutual cooperation during a Prisoner’s Dilemma game activate
areas of the brain linked to the processing of rewards. Cooperation is intrinsically rewarding even if they
might have fared better by competing with their partner. This reinforces altruism and inhibits selfishness.
• Children start helping others by getting rewards from parents and others, but eventually they become
internally motivated, helping without the promise of immediate material or social rewards.
• Negative State Relief Model (Cialdini): People help others in order to counteract their own feelings of
sadness, since helping others improves mood.
• We are also motivated to be good, because we recognize it’s the right thing to do. Some situations are
more likely to bring to mind norms that compel helpful behaviours, such as helping an elderly person with
• Others are compelled because their roles in the group or society make them responsible in a situation.
o Chesley Sullenberger, a pilot, had his jet hit a flock of geese and thus lose power. After guiding the
jet to land safely on the river, he refused to leave the sinking plane until he personally made sure
no one was left behind. He was the last person off the plane and off the rafts in the frigid river.
The Cost of Helping or Not Helping
• Helping can have large costs, such as for firefighters in the collapsed building on 9/11.
• Courageous Resistance: Thoughtful helping in the face of potentially enormous costs, such as hiding
runaway slaves during the 19 century or Jews during the Holocaust.
• When help involves constant and exhausting demands, the helper’s physical and mental health can
deteriorate. Page 3 of9
• Good Samaritan Laws encourage bystander intervention by offering legal protection, particularly
doctors who volunteer medical care when they happen upon emergencies.
• Other “duty to rescue” laws may increase the costs of failing to help, with laws requiring people to
provide or summon aid in an emergency as long as they do not endanger themselves.
Altruism or Egoism: The Great Debate
• Egoistic: Motivated by the desire to increase one’s own welfare.
• Altruistic: Motivated by the desire to improve another’s welfare.
The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
• Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: The proposition that empathic concern for a person in need produces
an altruistic motive for helping.
o Perceive someone in need and imagine how that person feels, experience other-oriented feelings
of empathic concern, altruistic motive to reduce the other person’s distress.
o Not perceiving someone in need and focusing on how oneself would feel in this situation -- true
altruism without any egotistical desires is only possible when you focus on the other person, not on
• How can we tell the difference between egoistic and altruistic motives? Depends on whether one can
obtain the relevant self-benefits without relieving the other’s need.
o Subjects given opportunity to use excuse that would allow them to escape from helping someone
and avoid feeling guilty about it. Subjects unprimed or primed to think about their own feelings take
o Subjects primed to take the other person’s perspective more likely to help the other person despite
the chance to get out of the situation, and the cost of giving help.
o Altruistic motive triggered by emphatic concern only satisfied through actually helping the other.
Perception that someone needs help
Reduction of one’s own distress
Reduction of other’s distress
Adoption of the other person’s perspective
Type of Motive
Satisfaction of Motive
• Emotional reactions to the other person also helps predict helping:
o Subjects read story about Bryan who was hit by car while running late to class and being seriously
injured. Their perspective was either manipulated to be objective or imagine-empathic. Page 4 of9
o Emotional reactions manipulated: Bryan either late because he was stopped by a lost old woman
and helped nicely, or helped derisively.
o Asked whether they would help take class notes for Bryan.
o Subjects induced to take Bryan’s perspective and feel emotionally positive to him most likely to
help. Subjects induced to be empathic but emotionally negative did not help more than objective
• Motives do not guarantee behaviour: empathy leads to altruistic motivations but not necessarily helpful
behaviours, such as when one believes the potential cost of helping is very high.
• People classified as egoists act prosocially when their reputation is at stake, whereas altruists do so
Convergence of Motivations: Volunteering
• Volunteering can be due both to other-focused motivation and self-focused motivation. In fact, egoistic
goals are associated with longer service, since purely altruistic motives may not keep individuals
motivated long enough to withstand personal costs associated with prolonged helping.
• Ferguson (2008): Found self-oriented beliefs better predicted actual blood donation, and designed
pamphlet which promotes donation from either an altruistic perspective or an egoistic perspective.
o Students with previous commitment to blood donation become more willing to do so after reading
egoistic messages. Students unwilling to donate blood did not change their commitment.
SITUATIONAL INFLUENCES: WHEN DO PEOPLE HELP?
The Unhelpful Crowd
• March 13, 1964: Kitty Genovese attacked near her apartment building. 38 neighbours witnessed her
ordeal, but no one intervened. Finally one man called the police after 45 minutes.
• Was this inaction due to the decline of morals in society, and the anonymity and apathy in large cities?
Darley and Latané social psychological processes were at work.
o Subject to have a discussion over the intercom with a one other student, or groups of 3 or 6 people.
One confederate experiences a seizure episode and asks for help.
o All subjects who thought they were participating alone quickly left to help. In larger groups, subjects
were less likely and slower to intervene. In 38% of the 6-person group situations, the subject did
not leave at all.
• Bystander Effect: The
effect whereby the
presence of others
• Step-by-step analysis of
involved in emergency
interpreting it as an
responsibility for getting
help, deciding how to
help, and providing
• In many situations, the
problem isn’t necessarily
perceived – the presence Page 5 of 9
of others can be distracting and divert attention from the victim, or people may be caught up in their own
• Those in cities and noisy environments experience stimulus overload, and tune out.
• People must interpret the meaning of what they notice as someone needing help – the more ambiguous
the situation, the less intervention.
• If the victim and attacker are viewed as having a close relationship, people are less likely to intervene,
e.g. a woman assaulted by a man, people are likely to think they are lovers or spouses and do not wish
to cut in. If the attacker as perceived as a stranger, more intervention.
• Pluralistic ignorance: State in which people in a group mistakenly think that their own individual
thoughts, feelings, or behaviours are different from those of others in the group.
o People startled by an unexpected event look to see how others behave. A bystander will think
others aren’t reacting because the situation is not an emergency, while actually everyone is just as
confused and hesitant, taking cues from each other’s inaction.
• Subjects to complete a questionnaire either alone, with confederates who remain passive, or with two
other naïve participants. Smoke starts to fill the room through a vent, and see whether subjects take
o 75% of those working alone took action within 6 minutes. Only 1/8 took action in groups of three
naïve subjects. With confederates who remain passive, only 1/10 did.
• Pluralistic ignorance in the classroom, where no one asks questions or says anything because they
assume everyone else finds the material easy.
• Diffusion of Responsibility: Belief that others will or should take the responsibility for providing
assistance to a person in need.
o Therefore, with a larger crowd, it