Are we inherently selfish?
Can we learn to act otherwise?
– A motive to increase another’s welfare without
conscious regard for one’s self-interests.
• Altruism has been the topic of
philosophical debates for centuries.
– Some argue that “true altruism” is not a
– Addition of “conscious regard” to above
definition weakens this counterargument.
• Empathy: feeling another’s feelings
• Batson argues that the arousal of empathy
increases helping behavior and gets us
closer to pure altruism.
– He argues that we focus more on the distress
of the other person than on our own distress.
Theories on why we Help
• Social Exchange Theory
– Relationships are designed to minimize costs
and maximize rewards.
– Sometimes referred to as Social Economics
or Social Calculus.
– Internal rewards include reduction of distress
and an increase of self-worth.
– External rewards include social approval.
Theory Two: Social Norms
• Norm of reciprocity
– We should help, not harm those, who have helped us.
And we expect the same behavior from others.
– More likely in sustained relationships than in one time
encounters (makes it harder to study in laboratory).
– When people have received help but can’t reciprocate
there is frequently a drop in self-esteem. This finding
is common for recipients of affirmative action.
• Social Responsibility Norm
– Belief that we should help those in need. We
should help those who are dependent on us,
with no expectation of reciprocity.
– This belief is stronger in collectivist cultures.
– Tends to be tied to attributions for need. We
help those who don’t seem to have caused
Theory Three: Sociobiology
• Genes drives us to maximize their likelihood of
being passed on.
• Thus, we help our kin and those who are “like
us” more quickly than others.
• Does not invalidate norm of reciprocity.
– Reciprocal systems increase likelihood of survival.
Are more likely to occur in small systems.
• Where does unreciprocated altruism fit in?
– Group selection: altruistic groups are more successful
• Religious and ethical rules: may have been
created to slow down our biological bias toward
Level of Mutual Intrinsic
Theory Explanation "Altruism" Altruism
Social rewards for rewards for
Exchange psychological helping helping
Social Norms sociological norm norm
Evolutionary biological reciprocity kin selection
Latane and Darley
• Leading researchers who were spurred to
action by the Kitty Genovese murder.
• Keys to helping behavior are:
– Noticing the event
– Interpreting it as an emergency
– Assuming responsibility
Factors that Influence Helping
• Number of bystanders
– How does a large crowd influence noticing an
emergency, interpreting something as an
emergency, and assuming responsibility?
– Leads to the bystander effect.
• Factors exist that reduce bystander effect.
– Clear emergencies vs. ambiguous.
– Cohesive groups vs. strangers.
• Presence of prosocial models.
– Salvation Army contributions increase if
person has just seen someone else give.
• Time pressure
– You are less likely to receive aid from
someone in a hurry
– They are less likely to notice an emergency
and less likely to interpret a situation correctly.
– Increases helping behavior.
– In one study, those who had not lied
volunteered to help an experimenter for an
average of 2 minutes, those who had lied
helped for approximately 63 minutes!
– More likely to help if our guilt is public
• Negative mood
– For adults, not children, a bad mood increases the
likelihood of helping behavior.
– It appears that adults have learned that helping is a
– Exceptions to this tendency include feelings of anger
• Positive mood
– Happy people are helpful people.
– Parking ticket study: fear turning to relief increases
helping behavior significantly.
• No one trait predicts altruism
– There are individual differences in helpfulness over
– Network of traits (emotionality, empathy, self-efficacy)
are linked to helping.
– High self-monitors help if they believe it will be
socially rewarded (interaction of personality and
– Men more likely to help in dangerous situations;
women in safer situations.
• Religious commitment is linked to a
greater likelihood of long-term, planned
• Weekly attendees of church/synagogue
(24% of population) give 48% of all
How do we teach altruism?
• Teach moral inclusion
– If we are more likely to help those who are
like us, expand that group.
• Model altruism
– Even television can be helpful here!
• Attributing behavior to altruistic motives
– Avoid overjustification effect. That is, don’t
coerce people into altruism, don’t reward
them too much, etc.