Chapter 8. Altruism: Helping Others
→ Altruism is selfishness in reverse. An altruistic person is concerned and helpful even when no benefits
are offered or expected in return.
Discuss why we help others.
> Discuss how social exchange affects helping
→ Several theories of helping agree that, in the long run, helping benefits the giver as well as the receiver.
One explanation assumes that human interactions are guided b a “social economics.” We exchange not
only material goods and money but also social goods - love, services, information, status. In doing so, we
use a “minimax” strategy - minimize costs, maximize rewards. Social-exchange theory does not contend
that we consciously monitor costs and rewards, only that such considerations predict out behaviour.
→ Rewards: Rewards that motivate helping may be external or internal. External reward may involve a
businesses donating money to improve their corporate image, or offering someone a ride with hopes of
being appreciated or being friends. Thus we are most eager to help someone attractive to us, someone
whose approval we desire. In experiments, and in everyday life, public generosity boosts one‟s status,
while selfish behaviour can lead to punishment. Rewards may also be Internal, for instance donating
blood makes people feel good about themselves, feelings of self satisfaction. Piliavin and Susan Anderson
pointed to dozens of studies showing that youth engaged in community service projects, school-based
“service-learning,” or tutoring children develop social skills and positive social values. Also, note that
generous people are happier than those whose spending is self-focused. In one experiment, people
received an envelope with cash that some were instructed to spend on themselves, while others were
directed to spend it on other people. At the day‟s end, the happiest people were those assigned to to
spend-it-on-others condition. So the question becomes: is social exchange theory really altruistic? This is
reminiscent of B. F. Skinner‟s analysis of altruism. We credit people for their good deeds only when we
can‟t explain them. We attribute their behaviour to their inner dispositions only when we lack external
explanations. When the external causes are obvious, we credit the causes, not the person. This is the
weakness in the social-exchange theory: it degenerates into explaining-by-naming. Why did she
volunteer? How do we know it‟s internal? This circular reasoning has brought in the idea of egoism - the
idea that self-interest motivates all behaviour. To escape the circularity, we must define the rewards and
costs independently of the helping behaviour. If social approval motivates helping, then in experiments
we should find that when approval follows helping, helping increases. And is does.
→ Internal rewards: So far we have considered external rewards for helping, we also need to consider
internal factors, such as the helpers emotional state. Altruism researcher Dennis Krebs found that
university men whose physiological responses and self-reports revealed the most arousal in response to
another‟s distress also gave the most help to the person.
> Guilt: Distress is not the only negative emotion we act to reduce. Picture yourself as a participant in one
such experiment conducted with university students by David McMillen and James Austin. You and a friend participate in an experiment to get a credit. A confederate walks in and says that most of the
answers for the multiple choice test are „B‟. Then the experimenter walks in and asks you participants if
you know or heard anything about this test. Would you lie? 100% of those who went before you did lie.
After you‟re done the experimenter says you are free to leave, however if you have some spare time, he
could use some help to score the tests. Assuming you have told the lie, do you think you would now be
more willing to volunteer some time? Judging from the results, the answer again is yes. On average, those
who had not been induced to lie volunteered only two minutes of time. Those who had lied were
apparently eager to redeem their self-image; on average, they offered 63 minutes. All in all, guilt leads to
much good. By motivating people to confess, apologize, help, and avoid repeated harm, it boosts
sensitivity and sustains close relationships. When an adult is in a guilty, sad, or otherwise negative mood,
a helpful deed (or any other mood improving experience) helps neutralize the bad feelings.
> Exceptions to the feel bad-do good scenario: Feel bad-do good is not always found in adults. One
negative mood, anger, produced anything but compassion. Another exception is depression, which is
characterized by self-concern. Another exception is profound grief, People who suffer the loss of spouse
or a child often undergo a period of intense self-preoccupation, a state that makes giving difficult. In an
experiment involving laboratory stimulation of self-focused grief, William Thompson, Claudia Cowan,
and David Rosenhan had Standford University students privately listen to a taped description of a person
(whom they were to imagine was their best friend of the other sex) dying of cancer. The experiment had
some subjects attention on their own worry and grief, and some others focused their attention on the
friend. The researchers reported that regardless of which tape the participants head, they were profoundly
moved and sobered by the experience, yet not all regretful of participating. Did their moods affect
helpfulness? When immediately thereafter they were given a chance to anonymously help a graduate
student with her research, 25 percent of those whose attention had been self-focused helped. Of those
whose attention was other-focused, 83 percent helped. The two groups were equally touched. But only the
other-focused participants found helping someone especially rewarding. In short, the feel bad-do good
effect occurs with people whose attention is on others, people for whom altruism is, therefore, rewarding.
> Feel good do good: Are happy people unhelpful? Quite the contrary. Joseph Forgas has a confederate
offer either mood-boosting compliment or a neutral or mood-deflating comment. When a second
confederate, blind, walked and seeked help, the staff who received the mood boost made the greatest
effort. Dariusz Dolinski and Richard Nawrat found that a positive mood of relief can dramatically boost
helping. They put a ticket on a persons car, and the person saw a ticket on the dashboard which was
relieved to find out it was only an ad. A confederate then approached and asks for 15 minutes to help with
their thesis. 62% of those who felt relief helped. Nearly double the number who received no ticket or
when it was put on the car door (not a place for tickets). Alice Isen, Margaret Clark, and Mark Schwartz
had a confederate call people who had received a free sample of stationery 0-20 minutes earlier. The
confederate said she had used her last dime to dial this (supposedly wrong) number and asked each person
to relay a message by phone. The individuals willingness to relay the phone message rose during 5
minutes afterward. Then as the good mood wore off, helpfulness dropped. Helping softens a bad mood
and sustains a good mood. A positive mood is, in turn, conducive to positive thoughts and positive self-
esteem, which dispose us to positive behaviour. Positive thinkers are likely to be positive actors.
<> Overall: The social exchange theory assumes that helping, like other social behaviours, is motivated
by a desire to maximize rewards, which may be external or internal. Thus, after wrongdoing, people often become more willing to offer help (guilt). Sad people also tend to be helpful. Finally, there is a striking
feel good-do good effect: Happy people are helpful people.
> Explain the role of social norms in helping others
→ Often we help others not because we have consciously calculated that such behaviour is in our self
interest but simply because something tells us we ought to. Such as helping a neighbour move in. Norms
are social expectations. They prescribe proper behaviour, the oughts of our lives. Researchers studying
helping behaviour have identified two social norms that motivate altruism: the reciprocity norm and the
social responsibility norm.
→ Sociologist Alvin Gouldner contended that one universal moral code is a norm of reciprocity: To
those who help us, we should return help, not harm. Gouldner believed this norm is as universal as the
incest taboo. We “invest” in others and expect dividends. Reciprocity within social networks helps define
the “social capital”- the supportive connections, information flow, trust, and cooperative actions - that
keeps the community healthy. Neighbours keeping an eye on each other‟s homes is social capital in
action. In one experiment, Mark Whatley found that more university students willingly made a pledge to
the charity of someone who had previously bought them some candy. Also, when people cannot
reciprocate, they may feel threatened and demeaned by accepting aid. Thus, proud, high self-esteem
people are often reluctant to seek help.
→ With people who clearly are dependent and unable to reciprocate, such as children, the severely
impoverished, and those with disabilities, another social norm motivates our helping. The social-
responsibility is the belief that people should help those who need help, with-out regard to future
exchanges. This norm motivates people to retrieve a dropped book for a person on crutches, for example.
In India, a relatively collectivest culture, people support the social-responsibility norm more strongly than
in the individualist West. They voice an obligation to help even when the need is not life-threatening or
the need person - perhaps a stranger needing a bone marrow transplant - is outside their family circle. In
the West we tend to help the needy people, however they usually apply the social-responsibility norm
selectively to those whoose need appears not to be due to their own negligence. Responses are thus
closely tied to attributions. If we attribute the need to an uncontrollable predicament, we help. If we
attribute the need to the person‟s choices, fairness does not require us to help; we say it‟s the person‟s
own faults. The key, suggested Udo Rudolph, is whether your attributions evoke sympathy, which in turn
motivates helping. Imagine yourself as one of the students in a study by Richard Barnes, William Ickes,
and Robert Kidd. If you get a call from a somebody in class, Tony, who says “My notes are not good
enough for the final exam. I know I could write better notes but I just don‟t feel like it”. How sympathetic
would you feel toward Tony? If you are like the students in this experiment, you would probably be much
less inclined to help then if Tony had just explained that his troubles were beyond his control. Thus, the
social responsibility norm compels us to help those most in need and those most deserving.
> Gender and receiving help: If, indeed, perception of someone else‟s need strongle determines your
willingness to help, will women, if perceived as less competent and more dependent, receive more help
than men? That is indeed the case. Alice Eagly and Maureen Crowley located 35 studies that compared help received by male or female victims. Women offered help equally to males and females, whereas men
offered more help when the strangers in need were females. Moreover, these forms of helping may have
been motivated by something else other than altruism, ex mating motivates heroism. Not surprising, men
more frequently helped attractive women - ex when they had a disabled car. Also women receive more
offers of help in certain situations; they also seek more help.
<> Overall: Social Norms also mandate helping. The reciprocity norm stimulates us to help those who
have helped us. The social-responsibility norm beckons us to help need people even if they cannot
reciprocate, as long as they are deserving.
Describe what evolutionary psychology predicts about helping.
→ Another explanation of helping comes from evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psychology contends
that the essence of life is gene survival. Donald Campbell called a biological reaffirmation of a deep, self-
serving “original sin.” Genes that predispose individuals to self-sacrifice in the interests of strangers‟
welfare would not survive in the evolutionary competition. Genetic selfishness should, however,
predispose us toward two specific types of selfless or even self-sacrificial altruism: Kin protection and
> Kin protection: David barash wrote “genes help themselves by being nice to themselves, even if they
are enclosed in difference bodies.” Genetic egoism (at the biological level) fosters parental altruism (at
the psychological level). Although evolution favours self-sacrifice for one‟s children, children have less at
stake in the survival of their parents‟ genes. Thus, according to the theory, parents will general be more
devoted to their children than their children are to them. Kin selection is the idea that evolution has
selected altruism toward one‟s close relatives to enhance the survival of mutually shared genes. We also
share common genes with many besides our relatives. Blue-eyes, for example, is one clue in physical
similarity. Also, in evolutionary history genes were shared more with neighbours than with foreingers.
Are we therefore biologically biased to be more helpful to those who look similar to us and who live near
us? Let us look at natural disasters. The children are helped before the old, family members beefore
friends, neighbours before strangers. Helping stats close to home. Some evolutionary psychologists note
that kin selection predisposes ethnic in-group favouritism.
> Reciprocity: Genetic self-interest also predicts reciprocity. One organism helps another, biologist
Robert Trivers argued, because it expects help in return. The giver expects later to be the getter, whereas
failure to reciprocate is punished: The cheat, turncoat, and the traitor are universally despised. Reciprocity
works best in small, isolated groups, groups in which one will often see the people for whom one does
favours. Why help strangers if individual self interest inevitably wins in genetic competition? One
answer, initially favoured by Darwin is group selection: When groups are in competition, groups of
mutually supportive altruists outlast groups of non- altruists. This can explain why a soldier throws
himself on a grenade to save the rest. Natural selection is, therefore, a multi-level: it