Chapter 10: Prosocial Behaviour
Why Do People Help?
Prosocial Behaviour: Any act performed with the goal of benefiting another person. Prosocial behaviour
can be either out of self-interest (hoping to get something in return) or as an act of altruism.
Altruism: the desire to help another person or group of people, even if it involves a cost to the helper.
Some examples of altruism are as follows;
• Tina Moores sacrificed her life to save a child from drowning
• HIV infected men and women were examined to see how motivated they were to participate in an
HIV vaccine trial. When asked why they would take part in the trials, the participants responded
that they wanted to help the global HIV community
So why do people help others?...
Evolutionary Psychology: Instincts and Genes
According to Darwin’s (1859) theory of evolution, natural selection favors genes that promote survival of
• Genes that further our survival and increase the probability that we will produce offspring are
likely to be passed on
• Genes that lessen are chances of survival are less likely to be passed on
Darwin’s theory, however, does not explain acts of altruism
• If peoples overriding goal is to ensure their own survival, why would they ever help others at a
cost to themselves?
In sum, evolutionary psychologists believe that people help others because of three factors that have
become ingrained in our genes;
1. Kin Selection
Kin selection is the idea that behaviors that help a genetic relative are favored by natural selection.
• People can ensure that their genes get passed on by
o Having their own children
o Ensuring that their genetic relatives have children
• Natural selection should favor altruistic acts directed toward genetic relatives
• People are more likely to help genetic relatives in life-or-death situations than nonrelatives (found
in men and women, and Japanese and NorthAmerican individuals)
o More likely to save their sibling in a fire than their friend
• People who have this “biological importance” gene are more likely to survive than those who do
• Other studies have shown that is not just a matter of genetic ties, but also a matter of how close we
feel to that person
2. The Reciprocity Norm
Reciprocity Norm is the expectation that helping others will increase the likelihood that they will help us in
the future. • As evolution has occurred it has been said that the people who were most likely to survive were
those who developed an understanding with their neighbors about reciprocity: “I will help you
now, with the agreement that when I need help, you will return the favor”
• Reciprocity can be detected in infancy (Queen’s University Study)
• Infants can also pick up on whether someone intends to help them and can reciprocate accordingly
• According to William Brown and Chris Moore (2000), from an evolutionary perspective it would
also be adaptive to be able to detect pure altruists from those who are cheaters
3. Learning Social Norms
Nobel Herbert Simon (1990) argued that it is highly adaptive for individuals to learn social norms from
other members of a society.
• Aperson who earns social norms such as which foods are poisonous and how members of a
culture should cooperate with one another, are more likely to survive
• Ability to learn social norms is part of our genetic makeup- one of these is altruism
• Those who cooperate are more likely to survive
How can evolutionary theory explain why complete strangers help each other, even when there is no reason
for them to assume that they share the same genes or that their favor will every be returned?
Social Exchange: The Costs and Rewards of Helping
The social exchange theory argues that much of what we do stems from the desire to maximize our rewards
and minimize our costs.
What might be the rewards of helping?
1. Helping someone is an investment in the future, the social exchange being that some day someone
will help you when you need it
2. Helping can relieve the distress of the by stander- People are aroused and disturbed when they see
another person suffer- we help to relieve our own stress
3. By helping others we can also gain such rewards as social approval and feelings of self-worth
What are some negatives to helping others?
• Helping decreases when the costs are high, as it would put us in physical danger
o Under these conditions people are less likely to help
BasicAssumption of the Social Exchange Theory: People only help when the benefits outweigh the costs.
Empathy andAltruism: The Pure Motive for Helping
Pure altruism is likely to come into play when we feel empathy for the person in need of help.
Empathy: Defined as the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person, experiencing events and
emotions the way that person experiences them.
Batson’s 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 gain.
• Batson acknowledges, however, that is it difficult to isolate the exact causes of complex social
• Abe Lincoln example
o Abe asks the driver to pull over so he can save a litter of distressed piglets from
drowning. His fellow passenger argues that what he did was an act of altruism. Abe,
however, argues that it was a completely selfish act because he wouldn’t have been able
to have peace of mind had he not helped the piglets. o How can we tell when a task is altruistic or self-motivated?
• When empathy is low, social exchange comes into play, in that people base their decision to help
others on the costs and benefits to themselves
• Acts of empathy and altruism can be seen in children as young as five- suggesting that true
altruism does occur
1. Observe someone in need of help Do you feel empathy towards this person NO You will help only if
it is in your self-interest to do so (that is, the benefits outweigh the costs)
2. Observe someone in need of help Do you feel empathy towards this person YES
You will help regardless of whether it is in your self-interest to do so (That is, even if the costs outweigh
There are three basic motives underlying prosocial behaviour:
1. Helping is an instinctive reaction to promote the welfare of those genetically similar to su
2. The rewards of helping often outweigh the cots, so helping is in our self-interest (social exchange
3. Under some conditions, powerful feelings of empathy for others prompt selfless giving (the
Personal Determinants of Prosocial Behaviour: Why Do Some people Help More Than Others?
How do we explain the fact that some people are just more helpful than others?
Individual Differences: TheAltruistic Personality
Altruistic Personality: Aspects of a person’s makeup that cause him or her to help others in a wide variety
• Personality does not make up behaviour
• Several factors need to be taken into account, such as;
o Situational pressures
o The culture in which they grew up
o Current mood
• The social situation can be a strong determinant of whether someone will help or not
Gender Differences in Prosocial Behaviour:
• Male sex role includes being chivalrous and heroic
• Females are expected to be nurturing and caring and to value close, long-term relationships
• Men have received more rewards for acts of bravery than women, and women have received more
awards for extraordinary care or help to individuals
• Recipients of the bravery award were more likely to be;
o Helpers early in life
o Securely attached
o Show a pattern of nurturing compassion coupled with decisive action taking
• Recipients of the caring awards were more likely to be;
o More optimistic o Generally tended to be more focused on close relationships than recipients of bravery
Socioeconomic Status Differences