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Chapter 10 discusses diffusion of responsibility—a belief that others will help someone in need, leading to a lessened sense of individual responsibility and a lower probability of helping. In this assignment, you will explore how diffusion of responsibility is exhibited in a real-world setting. To conduct this demonstration, when you are at work, on campus, or in some other public situation, act as if you need help with some minor problem. For example, you can look around confusedly while looking at your phone or drop something that will scatter a bit. Choose something innocuous and harmless to yourself. Do this a couple of times: once when there are several people present and once when there are only one or two people around.
After you complete these actions, write down your notes right away. Using your notes, compose an essay addressing the following points.

Describe what you did and how it indicated a need for help to others.
Explain the behavioral response to the situation when many people were present and when only a few people were present, including any differences between the two conditions.
Discuss whether the response you received fit with the textbook’s discussion of the bystander effect. If your demonstration did not work out, explain why you think it might not have.
Describe a behavior that may elicit an aggressive, rather than a helping, response. Discuss whether you think the likelihood of an aggressive response would differ when many versus few people were present. Compare this pattern of aggressive responses to helping responses.
Draw on research from the textbook or another resource to support your answers.
Your response should be at least two pages in length. You must use at least one source as a reference in your paper. All sources used, including the textbook, must be referenced; paraphrased and quoted material must have accompanying citations. Please format your paper and all citations in accordance with APA guidelines.
The following resource(s) may help you with this assignment.

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PSY 3140, Social Psychology 1

Course Learning Outcomes for Unit VI

Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:

3. Explain how social psychologists study human behavior.
3.1 Compare motivations underlying helping behaviors versus aggressive behaviors.

5. Analyze the conclusions of empirical research in social psychology.
5.1 Identify the circumstances and motivations that influence helping behaviors.

7. Examine how our own biases influence perceptions of various behaviors.
7.1 Describe how behaviors can be perceived as requiring help.
7.2 Discuss the application of the bystander effect to a social situation.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Activity


Unit Lesson
Chapter 10, pp. 303–312, 315–318, and 320–326
Chapter 11, pp. 333–339, 342–347, and 351–361
Unit VI Scholarly Activity

Unit Lesson
Chapter 10, pp. 303–312, 315–318, and 320–326
Unit VI Scholarly Activity

Unit Lesson
Chapter 10, pp. 303–312, 315–318, and 320–326
Unit VI Scholarly Activity

Unit Lesson
Chapter 10, pp. 303–312, 315–318, and 320–326
Unit VI Scholarly Activity

Reading Assignment

Chapter 10: Helping and Prosocial Behavior, pp. 303–312, 315–318, and 320–326

Chapter 11: Aggression, pp. 333–339, 342–347, and 351–361

Unit Lesson

Helping and Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior is any act done with the intention of benefiting another person or group (Heinzen &
Goodfriend, 2019). Altruism is the desire to help another person out of selfless concern for his or her well-
being. Researchers who study prosocial behavior and altruism examine whether people are born with these
behaviors or learn them. They are also interested in why people help others, even if it does not benefit them.
What do you think the difference is between prosocial behavior and altruism? Can you determine how
prosocial behavior and altruism are connected?

One explanation as to why people might help others is based on evolutionary psychology. Explaining altruistic
behavior is problematic for the theory of evolution because sometimes people act altruistically, even if it might
decrease the chance of passing their genes on to the next generation. Some people have died while helping
others, but they often do so in order to benefit their family groups more broadly. This, in turn, can ensure that


Aggression and Prosocial

PSY 3140, Social Psychology 2


certain familial genetic pools are passed on through reproduction. Could this potentially mean that people
help even if it means they will not get something in return?

Why do you help others? Is it because you expect to be helped in the future? Recall from Chapter 7 that the
norm of reciprocity suggests that we do things to help others with the expectation of an increased likelihood
for them to help us in the future (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019). According to this norm, sociobiologists
propose that when helping nonrelatives, individuals expected that altruistic acts would be returned in kind,
which furthered their own survival. Much of what you do can be explained by social exchange theory—the
desire to maximize your rewards and to reduce costs, including avoiding or reducing your own negative
emotional states. This theory is based on self-interest, but that self-interest does not necessarily have a
genetic basis. What are your thoughts about this theory?

If, after reading about social exchanges, you thought it did not reflect true altruism, you are correct. Do you
think that people always help others to benefit themselves? Can you think of an example of when you helped
to benefit yourself? What about an example of when you helped even though you received nothing in return?
Batson (1991) proposes an alternative idea to explain why people help. He suggests that people do help out
of the goodness of their hearts because of their ability to experience empathy for a person in need. According
to Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis, when you feel empathy toward someone, you will help him or her
for unselfish reasons. How might you be able to apply Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis to the real world
in order to increase helping?

Could personality explain the desire to help others? That is, are some personalities more prone to helping
others versus other types of personalities? Various personality characteristics have been connected with
helping behavior, but consistent evidence is lacking in the consensus of a helping personality trait. Thus, it is
unlikely that personality solely determines helping. Other factors that might influence individual differences in
helping include religious and cultural upbringings that place value on altruism and helping others in need.
Unfortunately, as Darley and Batson (1973) found in their classic Good Samaritan study, these values may
not be enough to provide help if people are in a rush or have other things to do. Gender may also contribute
to differences in helping behaviors, as gender socialization typically steers males to be more agentic and
females to be more communal (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019).

If you get hurt, would not you want to be in a
large group to increase the odds that
someone will help you? Well, according to
some social psychologists, you may not. As
mentioned in Chapter 8, diffusion of
responsibility can influence when people
take action. Latané and Darley (1970) were
interested in the murder of Kitty Genovese
in New York, which occurred on a busy New
York street. They hypothesized that the
larger number of bystanders present led to
the failure to help. To test this hypothesis,
they conducted an experiment. Participants
sat in separate booths and were asked to
communicate over an intercom. On the
intercom, the other participant faked having
a seizure. The experimenters manipulated
participants’ perceptions of how many other
people were present during the seizure.
What do you think the results were? When

the participants believed more people were present, they were slower to help. This became known as the
bystander effect. What would you do if you saw someone who needed help? Do you think that your decision
to help would vary based on the number of bystanders present? View the following video clip to learn more
about Latané and Darley’s interest and work on the bystander effect and the potential for bystander

The bystander effect states that the more people that view an event,
the less likely people are to help
(Corepics Vof, 2010)

PSY 3140, Social Psychology 3



Video Education America (Producer). (2009). Bystander intervention (Custom Segment 14) [Video file].
Retrieved from

The transcript for this video can be found by clicking the “Transcript” tab to the right of the video in the Films
on Demand database.

Latané and Darley (1970) also developed a five-step model of helping to explain when people are most likely
to help others. You can see a summary of the model depicted in Figure 10.2 in your textbook, but they
suggest that a person needs to 1) notice and 2) recognize the event as an emergency first. If there is no
emergency, there is no need for aid. Then, a person needs to 3) take responsibility for providing and 4) know
how to provide the necessary help. Finally, a person has to 5) decide to actually act on the helping behavior
because even if there is need and a person can help, the costs may outweigh the benefits of helping.


Distinctive from assertiveness, aggressive action is intentional behavior aimed at doing harm or causing pain
to another person who does not want to be harmed (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019). Though many people may
automatically think of physical acts of aggression when considering the term, the intent to harm aspect allows
for a much broader range of behaviors to be included. Aggression can be categorized in a variety of ways,
including different aggressive behaviors and triggers of aggression. Hostile/reactive aggression is when
someone reacts impulsively to perceived threats. Distinct from this form of aggression, instrumental/proactive
aggression involves harming others in order to gain some type of resource. The difference between these
forms of aggression is that instrumental/proactive aggression is more thought out and reason-based, though
both may act as anchors of an aggression continuum. Despite the existence of aggression at all documented
points within human history and the ease in which aggressive responses can escalate, data have shown an
overall decline in worldwide violence.

Like prosocial behavior, evolutionary theory has also been used to explain aggression. What do you think
evolutionary theory would suggest about aggressive behaviors? Genetic influence alone may not be enough
to explain aggression, but some researchers suggest that aggression may be useful in securing higher social
status and its accompanying resources, such as the ability to reproduce successfully. Other researchers have
found evidence for biological mechanisms across all sexes that contribute to aggressive behaviors, such as
engaging in the fight response to threats and higher levels of testosterone (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019).

Aggression also can be explained using the context of cultural influences. Are men more aggressive than
women are? Research suggests that men engage in physical aggression more often than women do, but
gender differences are much smaller when people, of any gender, are provoked (Bettencourt & Miller, 1996).
In addition, research indicates that women engage in more verbal aggression (e.g., gossiping, spreading
rumors) when compared to men. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that humans, despite gender, are
capable of engaging in aggressive behaviors. It is also important to note that cultures emphasizing gender
equality and individualism exhibit less female victimization. In essence, gender roles can dictate how and to
whom aggression is expressed. Can you think of other ways cultural forces may influence aggressive
tendencies and outcomes?

What else contributes to aggression? Social learning is a major factor for aggression. Noting this, Albert
Bandura (as cited in Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019) developed the social learning theory. Children learn to act
aggressively when such behavior is rewarded or socially sanctioned, such that aggression can be learned
rather than inherited. In a classic experiment using Bobo dolls, Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1961) showed that
children indeed imitated novel aggressive behaviors modeled by adults and other children. To learn more
about this study, watch the short video below:

Online Classroom Ltd. (Producer). (2007). Bobo doll experiment (Custom Segment 68) [Video file]. Retrieved





PSY 3140, Social Psychology 4


The transcript for this video can be found by clicking the “Transcript” tab to the right of the video in the Films
on Demand database.

Other support for social learning as a cause of aggression comes from long-term studies revealing
relationships between watching violence on television as children and exhibiting greater violence later as
teens and adults. Notice the usage of the term relationship because causality cannot be determined from
these studies. Evidence from experimental research, however, has also revealed that watching violence in the
media increases aggression in children. Despite this connection to aggression, media sources can provide
positive outcomes, too. For example, in a series of experiments, participants who played a prosocial video
game were more likely to help after playing the game than those who played a neutral game (Greitemeyer &
Osswald, 2010).

Physical pain increases the likelihood that both animals and humans will act aggressively. Bodily discomfort,
like humidity, heat, air pollution, or offensive odors, might also contribute to aggressive behaviors. Why might
these factors contribute to aggression? Can you think of any examples from the media in which one of these
factors were cited as a reason that someone or a group of people acted aggressively?

Another source of aggression can be
frustration. Frustration occurs when you feel
like an expected goal or gratification is
blocked (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019).
Frustration is higher when we are close to a
goal, and so is the likelihood of aggression, as
the aggression functions as an attempt to
reclaim what goal is being lost. Usually, it is
anger or annoyance that makes you ready to
act aggressively, rather than frustration.

The common belief that you can blow off
steam and get it (aggression) out of your
system is an oversimplification of the catharsis
hypothesis (Heinzen & Goodfriend, 2019). The
idea is that aggressive thoughts and behaviors
are reduced when you purposefully engage in
aggressive behaviors (or even watch others
act aggressively). Although some
psychologists believe strongly in the catharsis
hypothesis, controlled studies suggest that
acting aggressively or viewing aggression instead increases aggression and hostility, rather than reducing it.
Results are similar even when aggression is directed to the source of anger. Thus, there is no support for the
catharsis hypothesis or even getting revenge, regardless of how it feels at the time. Instead, committing
aggressive acts reduces the barriers toward further aggression and aids in justifying aggressive acts. A better
approach to dealing effectively with aggression is to try to establish cultural norms that value peace and
model forgiveness when instances of anger and aggression arise.

Prosocial and aggressive behaviors are portrayed as opposites, and at face value, they are. However, when
you investigate what drives behavior, both can function similarly. Whether helping or hurting, people are
constantly interacting with and responding to others, and they are typically trying to gain something out of the
interaction. Some of these tendencies may be biologically driven, but there is strong evidence that we
primarily learn both of these tendencies from the social world in which we are raised and live. As with
anything, too much of helping or hurting can be detrimental. You do not want to hurt others unnecessarily or
too often, but you also do not want others to take advantage of your kindness either. Finding a balance can
start by simply taking note of what the social environment needs. By accurately assessing what the situation
calls for, we can all be more purposeful and beneficial with our actions.

You have probably experienced frustration at one time or another.
Do you think that you would have been more likely to engage in
aggression at this time?
(Alphaspirit, n.d.)

PSY 3140, Social Psychology 5




Alphaspirit. (n.d.). Stress and frustration (ID 38449818) [Photograph]. Retrieved from www.dreamstime.com

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive
models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(3), 575–582.

Batson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Laurence

Bettencourt, B. A., & Miller, N. (1996). Gender differences in aggression as a function of provocation: A meta-
analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 119(3), 422–447.

Corepics Vof. (2010). Car crash (ID 16105360) [Photograph]. Retrieved from www.dreamstime.com

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional
variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100–108.

Greitemeyer, T., & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 98(2), 211–221.

Heinzen, T., & Goodfriend, W. (2019). Social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? New York, NY:
Appleton-Century Crofts.

Suggested Reading

The PowerPoint presentations below serve as a companion to the chapters in this unit. You are encouraged
to view them for a deeper understanding of the material presented in this unit.

Click here to view the Chapter 10 PowerPoint Presentation. Click here to view the presentation as a PDF.

Click here to view the Chapter 11 PowerPoint Presentation. Click here to view the presentation as a PDF.

In order to access the following resources, click the links below:

There are many different reasons for aggression, some of which you learned about in this unit. One of those
reasons is revenge. Read the article below for a psychological perspective of revenge.

Grobbink, L. H., Derksen, J. J. L., & van Marle, H. J. C. (2015). Revenge: An analysis of its psychological
underpinnings. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 59(8), 892–
907. Retrieved from

In this unit, you learned about the bystander effect. What affect does a camera have on bystander affect? The
article below delves into this question.

van Bommel, M., van Prooijen, J.-W., Elffers, H., & van Lange, P. A. M. (2014). Intervene to be seen: The
power of a camera in attenuating the bystander affect. Social Psychological and Personality Science,
5(4), 459–466. Retrieved from







PSY 3140, Social Psychology 6



Learning Activities (Nongraded)

Nongraded Learning Activities are provided to aid students in their course of study. You do not have to submit
them. If you have questions, contact your instructor for further guidance and information.

Test yourself on concepts covered in Chapters 10 and 11. Mastering this material will help you complete the
assignment in this unit. Click the links below to view the flashcards and quizzes for each unit.

Click here for the Chapter 10 Flashcards. Click here for the Chapter 10 Quiz.

Click here for the Chapter 11 Flashcards. Click here for the Chapter 11 Quiz.






Helping and Prosocial Behavior

NBC NewsWire / NBCUniversal / Getty Images

Media Library
CHAPTER 10 Media Library


Ask the Experts    

Ask the Experts 10: Catherine Borshuk on Altruism

Social Psychology in Action    

Social Psychology in Action 10: Bystander Effect


Journal 10.1: Searching for the Prosocial Personality

Journal 10.2: Intervene to Be Seen

Learning Objectives

    Explain several general motives for why helping behaviors occur.

    Analyze individual differences regarding why some people are more likely to help.

    Apply psychological concepts regarding what situational variables lead to more or less helping in different settings.
Core Questions
1.   What motivates people to help others, in general?
2.   Why do some people help more than others?
3.   What circumstances make helping more or less likely?
Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twin astronauts who have devoted their lives to space exploration. In 2012, Scott volunteered to spend a year in space so that scientists could study long-term damages to his body due to space travel—and his twin Mark served as the Earth-bound control condition participant. Both astronauts have sacrificed time with their families and physical health so that other people can learn from their experiences.

Amer Almohibany / AFP / Getty Images

The White Helmets, Syria
“The White Helmets” is a nickname for the Syria Civil Defense organization, a nongovernmental, nonprofit group whose members tried to save lives of civilians in Aleppo, Syria, affected by the war there. According to Raed Al Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, these volunteers had saved over 60,000 lives by 2016—but more than 140 of the White Helmets died while trying to help others. The group was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and states that they try to live by the Koran’s words, “To save a life is to save all of humanity.”

Dan Kitwood / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. At the age of 12, she stood up to the Taliban in Pakistan when she wrote a blog arguing that all women have a basic right to education. She has been the victim of several assassination attempts and threats, but she refuses to stop advocating for other girls around the world.
What motivates these people—and all of the other self-sacrificing heroes throughout history—to help others?
  LO 10.1: Explain several general motives for why helping behaviors occur.

Ask the Experts
Ask the Experts 10: Catherine Borshuk on Altruism

Have you ever donated blood? Spent a weekend volunteering for Habitat for Humanity? Given money to a charity? Held the door for someone holding a heavy package? If so, you’ve tried to help someone in need. Prosocial behavior is a general term for helping others, either on an individual level (like helping someone who’s lost) or on a group level (like donating to a charity). Helping others is perhaps one of the best parts of a social network, and we’ve all probably experienced the joy of feeling that we’ve made a positive difference in the world.
However, the social psychology of helping is complicated, just like all of the topics covered in this book. One debate that might never go away is over exactly why people help others. Some people believe that it’s possible for us to exhibit altruism (sometimes called pure altruism), that is, to help others purely out of selfless concern for their well-being (Batson, 1990, 1998). Purely altruistic acts are motivated only by the desire to help—and nothing is expected in return. However, slightly more cynical (or more realistic, depending on your view) people argue that pure altruism is a myth. They argue that prosocial behaviors really stem from egoistic altruism, or helping behaviors done in exchange for some kind of personal benefit.
You might protest at this point, thinking, “But I do help others, expecting nothing in return!” Certainly, when we help a stranger, we might never expect to see that person again. When we give to charity, we are sacrificing those financial resources and things we might enjoy buying for ourselves. But when you engage in prosocial behaviors, do you feel like a better person? Are you happier and more fulfilled? If so—isn’t that a reward? If you don’t help, you might feel guilty or sad—and so, could helping be a selfish way to avoid those negative emotions? These indirect or emotional rewards of helping are part of egoistic altruism.
Social psychology has studied the motivations behind helping and prosocial behaviors in general in an attempt to answer these questions scientifically. So far, the field has offered four major explanations for why we engage in prosocial behaviors: evolutionary benefits to the larger group, social norms, avoiding negative emotions, and empathy (see Table 10.1). Let’s talk about each idea.
The Evolutionary Perspective: Prosocial Behaviors Help Our Groups Survive
Life is a little easier if you have good neighbors. It doesn’t matter whether they lived on the next farm three miles down the road or in the opposite apartment only three steps across the hall. For all social animals, there are evolutionary advantages to being a good neighbor. Among our ancient ancestors, these daily prosocial exchanges probably began over food. If you had killed more meat than you could consume before it got rotten, then you would probably trade away your extra meat for someone else’s excess fruit, grain, or other resource. It’s also possible that at some point, you might have given extra resources to someone in the group without immediately expecting something in return.
■  TABLE 10.1  Four Explanations for Prosocial or Helping Behaviors

Social exchange refers to the evolution of prosocial trading of resources that strengthens the group. Cosmides and Tooby (1992) describe social exchange between humans as “universal and highly elaborated across all human cultures” (p. 164). We exchange favors with neighbors, exchange money for electronic devices, and even exchange promises when negotiating complex treaties between nations. The advantages of sharing food probably led to other prosocial exchanges such as cooperative hunting, mutual defense, communal childcare, and so on.
Over many generations, the trait of altruism would be naturally selected as one of the constellation of characteristics that made it so advantageous to live in cooperative groups. Selfish loners would be more likely to starve to death, be eaten by prey, or at least be less attractive as sexual and relationship partners. Their genes would slowly be washed out of the gene pool. In contrast, helpful, cooperative, generous altruists would survive by becoming skilled at group living. They would attract strong sexual and relationship partners. Their genes would slowly come to dominate the gene pool (see Nesse, 2001; Van Vugt & Van Lange, 2006). In this view, then, prosocial behaviors offer two advantages: (1) they help individuals survive by promoting opportunities to reproduce and thus pass on one’s genes, and (2) and they help the group survive in times of need (by spreading food around, etc.).
Kinship Selection.  We described the advantages of being a good neighbor, but you are probably more likely to loan money to a family member than to your neighbor. Kinship selection refers to the evolutionary urge to favor those with closer genetic relatedness. In his best-known book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin (1859, p. 238) pointed out that cattle breeders wanted cattle with “flesh and fat well marbled” together. But when they found such an animal, farmers couldn’t breed the animal—because they had already slaughtered it. Darwin noted that cattle breeders did the next best thing: They bred the dead animal’s closest living relatives. Darwin realized that these English cattle (and dog) breeders understood the principle now called inclusive fitness, the probability that our genetic heritage will be preserved in the offspring of relatives.

sjbooks / Alamy Stock Photo

Dawkins’s (1976) book The Selfish Gene discusses the genetic benefits of helping others—but only if the people you help are related to you and thus share your genes.
Another naturalist named William Hamilton proposed a mathematical equation for when prosocial behaviors are most likely to occur. According to Hamilton’s Inequality, prosocial behavior will emerge whenever (r × b) > c. That is, helping happens when r (the genetic relatedness of the person who needs help) multiplied by b (the benefits of helping) is greater than c (the cost of helping). What we might call altruism is really just our genes struggling to survive—and defaulting to our closest relatives when our own welfare is not in danger.
Inclusive fitness also appears to shape helping behavior among humans. Essock-Vitale and McGuire (1985) interviewed 300 randomly selected White, middle-class Los Angeles women about patterns of helping between kin (family members) and nonkin. They discovered that the women were more likely to help (a) those who were more closely related and (b) those with high reproductive potential.
Burnstein, Crandall, and Kitayama (1994) found a similar pattern when they presented undergraduates with life-or-death moral dilemmas. The students consistently recommended more help for close kin and for younger people. They even recommended more help for premenopausal rather than postmenopausal women. Human decision making seems to include an intuitive sense of inclusive fitness, due to the egoistic altruism motive of helping pass on our genes—even if that has to happen indirectly through our blood relatives.
Reciprocal Altruism.  While helping is more likely within the family, we certainly help nonrelatives as well. Evolutionary motives for helping, such as keeping one’s group alive or getting more opportunities to reproduce, represent egoistic altruism (helping others for long-term personal benefits). In addition, within most groups where people see each other frequently, prosocial behaviors may occur due to reciprocal altruism, or the expectation that our helpfulness now will be returned in the future.
We humans are not alone when it comes to trading favors. Many other social animals also evolved reciprocal altruism (Van Vugt & Van Lange, 2006). Vampire bats, for example, famously feast on blood, usually from large mammals such as wild pigs, cows, and horses (but rarely from humans). They need a lot of blood. Vampire bats will drink about half their body weight during an uninterrupted feeding—so much that they sometimes have difficulty taking flight. DeNault and McFarlane (1995) discovered why vampire bats are so bloodthirsty. A vampire bat will die if it goes more than 48 to 72 hours without a blood meal. They also found that both male and female vampire bats will, in an apparent act of altruism, regurgitate some of their blood meal and share it with starving neighbors. But the story of vampire bat altruism is even more sophisticated.

© CanStockPhoto.com/kentoh

It may surprise you that vampire bats are a species with a highly evolved system of helping each other, through a system called reciprocal altruism.
Vampire bats are selective in their sharing of blood. When Wilkinson (1984) studied vampire bats in Costa Rica, he discovered that they were more likely to donate blood to those bats with the greatest need for a meal. Furthermore, their altruistic food sharing was not limited to their immediate kin. Frequent roost-mates were more likely to be the beneficiaries. And the evidence suggests that vampire bats are able to identify, remember, and not help those vampire bats that had not donated blood to other starving bats. Essentially, “cheaters can be detected and excluded from the system” (Wilkinson, 1990, p. 82). Helping can directly lead to increasing your own survival in times of need—a very adaptive pattern of behavior.
Inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism take the “nature” side of the nature versus nurture debate when viewed from the evolutionary psychology lens. What about the nurture side?
Prosocial Social Norms Increase Helping
Astronaut Scott Kelly still isn’t directly helping his brother Mark by going through health-threatening experiments in space. Putting his life at risk isn’t going to help either one of them. So, there must be other explanations for prosocial behaviors than just protecting our genes. One alternative explanation is that helping behaviors result from a group’s social norms. Taking risks is what astronauts do—it’s their social norm.
Recall from Chapter 7 that social norms are unwritten rules about how members of a group are expected to act. Some of these norms are specifically about helping. You already know about one norm, called reciprocity (the expectation that favors will be returned later). There are other relevant social norms, but the psychological forces that promote prosocial behaviors don’t easily yield their secrets to researchers.
The Difficulty of Studying Prosocial Behavior.  Think about why it might be difficult to get our scientific arms around helping behavior. Random assignment to groups is almost always the best way to conduct an experiment. Random assignment means that each group is likely to start out as equal at the beginning of the experiment. Starting out equal creates a fair test, similar to marathon runners using the same starting point to see who runs the fastest. If the groups really are equal in every way except the independent variable, then any differences in the dependent variable (what you measure as the outcome) must be caused by the different experimental conditions.
But social psychologists can’t go around randomly assigning people to be in a life-threatening emergency as part of a comparison group for an experiment! Preventing such abuses is why organizations have institutional review boards (IRBs) that screen the ethics of research projects before they are allowed to go forward. Bierhoff, Klein, and Kramp (1991/2006) got around this problem by creating equivalent groups through a post hoc matched groups design. They started by identifying people who had provided first aid after a traffic accident that happened naturally; that became Group 1. Then they created a meaningful comparison group—Group 2—by (a) matching the people in Group 1 with others who were similar in sex, age, and socioeconomic status and (b) including only people in Group 2 who had witnessed an accident and not helped. It wasn’t as good as using random assignment, but it was a lot more ethical.
The comparison between these two groups indicated that people in Group 1—those who had helped—were more empathetic. No surprise there (we’ll discuss empathy later). But they dug even deeper and found that the Group 1 helpers also believed in two social norms: (1) a just world and (2) social responsibility.
Helping and Belief in a Just World.  Many people say that they offer help because they want to “pay it forward” or because “what goes around comes around.” But do we all eventually get what we deserve? Is goodness always rewarded and evil punished? Remember from Chapter 5 that belief in a just world is the idea that the world is a fair place in which good things happen to good people—and bad things happen to bad people (Lerner, 1980).
One of the most famous cases in the history of the civil rights movement demonstrates the connection between prosocial behavior and belief in a just world. In 1943, a Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver named James Blake ordered a Black passenger named Rosa Parks to get off his bus and then reenter through the rear door (the standard policy for Black passengers at the time). She complied, but while she was off the bus and heading toward the rear door, he simply drove away.
More than a decade later, on December 1, 1955, Blake was once again the driver when bus No. 2857 stopped to pick up a passenger, a White man. Blake ordered a Black woman to give up her seat—and it was the same woman he had left waiting on the side of the road 12 years earlier. This time, Parks refused to obey, leading to her arrest. Parks’s defiance made her into one of the heroines of the civil rights movement. This type of blatant discrimination did not fit into many people’s beliefs that the world should be just and fair.
What followed was a yearlong bus boycott; if people of color were not to be treated fairly, then they wouldn’t ride at all. The success of the boycott depended on hundreds of people making many small but critically important altruistic sacrifices; help from everyone was needed to benefit the group. Instead of riding a bus, people had to get up earlier and endure long walks to work, shop, and so forth—and enough people had to do it for the bus company to suffer from the lack of passengers.
In the long run, people in the boycott would be helping themselves (they would get better treatment on the bus), but in the short term, they had to make sacrifices for the good of the group. For many, the motivation was that racist laws were not just or fair. These people were willing to help the entire group of oppressed people of color by sacrificing their own comfort and convenience because they believed in a just world.

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Civil rights icon Rosa Parks participated in a movement to end racial discrimination that did not align with belief in a just world. This photo shows her riding the bus on the day Montgomery, Alabama, ended its racist policies.
Helping and the Social Responsibility Norm.  Parks and the other participants in the civil rights movement certainly believed that everyone should be treated equally—it’s only fair. However, a second social norm was also at play: the social responsibility norm. This norm is the idea that each individual has a duty to improve the world by helping those in need. If you are on an elevator with someone who is unable to push a button for the floor he needs (maybe his arms are full of boxes), it’s a social expectation that you should ask him what floor he wants and push the button for him.
The social responsibility norm can be tricky, though. Have you ever held the door open for someone, only to find yourself standing there holding the door for many more? How long are you expected to stay there, potentially making yourself late or separated from your friends who already went inside? You might have experienced a similar problem in a city with homeless people asking for spare change . . . you can’t give away all of your money or help every homeless person you see!

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Are you more likely to give money to a homeless person who doesn’t appear to “deserve” being homeless? If so, the dual norms of a just world and social responsibility may have affected your behavior.
The social responsibility norm must be strong enough to “compel people to provide aid” but sensitive enough to help only “those who deserve help” (Simmons & Lerner, 1968, p. 224). This may be where the social responsibility norm overlaps with the just world norm. For example, some homeless people make signs reading “homeless vet” or “God bless you,” hoping that you will be more likely to help them if you believe they don’t “deserve” to be homeless.
We Help to Avoid Negative Emotions: Negative State Relief
Abraham Lincoln may have understood egoistic altruism. After a companion praised him for rescuing some baby pigs from drowning, Lincoln said that his behavior was “the very essence of selfishness.” When his companion asked him why, he replied, “I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind” (Sharp, 1928, cited in Batson, Bolen, Cross, & Neuringer-Benefiel, 1986). While this story may be more folklore than fact, Lincoln’s hypothetical words indicate an awareness that helping can really be selfish, done to simply avoid feeling sad or guilty later.
The negative state relief model of helping posits that seeing another person in need causes us emotional distress and that helping decreases those negative emotions (Dovidio & Penner, 2001; Schaller & Cialdini, 1990). This model supports the “egoistic” or selfish aspect of helping; behaviors that may appear to be pure altruism are really done for selfish reasons. Research on this idea has found that simply being in a negative mood doesn’t seem to increase helping behaviors (Forgas, 1998; Habashi, Graziano, & Hoover, 2016), but sadness and guilt do seem to increase compliance when someone directly requests help.

Social Psychology in Popular Culture

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In the world of comic book superheroes, Captain America is one of the most pure of heart. Consistently ethical, loyal, and the epitome of patriotism, he also encapsulates the idea of pure altruism, or willingness to sacrifice himself to help others with no expectation of reward.
This altruism is highlighted in an early scene from Captain America: The First Avenger (Feige & Johnston, 2011), in which the military is attempting to decide which new recruit they will choose for their experimental program to create a super-soldier. The military officers argue with the scientists regarding which traits are most important, and they seem to settle on “guts” and heroism. To test the candidates, one of the officers throws a dummy grenade at the group of soldiers. While most of the men immediately run for cover, Steve Rogers jumps onto the grenade in an attempt to save everyone else. This ultimate altruism and self-sacrifice is what distinguishes him from the crowd and ultimately leads to him becoming Captain America.
An example of this phenomenon was found in a study of college students (McMillen & Austin, 1971). To start, the researchers had to experimentally manipulate participant emotions. They asked students to complete a multiple-choice exam in exchange for extra credit, and each participant was given information about the correct answers from a confederate when the researcher was out of the room. When the researcher returned and asked the participants if they had any knowledge of the study or the test, some participants said “no”—a harmless little white lie, right?
However, the next part of the study showed that people who told the lie might have felt at least a little guilty. All of the participants were then asked if they would help the researchers by volunteering to score some of the tests. Participants who had not lied earlier in the study helped for an average of about 2 minutes. In contrast, people who had lied to the researcher stayed for over an hour—an average of 63 minutes!
We can infer that the people who lied may have felt guilty and volunteered to help as a way to relieve that negative emotion (and potentially a negative view of themselves as bad people). The negative state relief model includes the idea that we help when we see other people suffering because not helping would make us feel bad, and we want to avoid that feeling. But it also suggests that when we’re in a bad mood for other reasons, helping can help improve our mood—so we might seek out helping situations purely to improve our own emotional state (Dietrich & Berkowitz, 1997; Fultz, Schaller, & Cialdini, 1988).
We Help Because We Care: The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
So far, you might think that social psychology is a pretty cynical science—all of the theories above conclude that people only help for selfish, egoistic reasons, because we want to comply with social norms, or because we want to avoid feeling guilt or sadness. If so, you’ll be relieved to know that the final theory suggests that sometimes, people help others simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
Consider the case of two women on a commuter train in Portland who were being harassed because they appeared to be Muslim (Dobuzinskis, 2017). Their harasser was angrily yelling racial and religious slurs. Three men who saw the harassment occurring intervened—and all of them were stabbed by the harasser. Two of the men who bravely tried to help the women died due to the stabbing. All three people who stepped in risked physical danger for a complete stranger. The accompanying feature, “Social Psychology in Popular Culture,” discusses the altruism of the comic book superhero, Captain America, to highlight a well-known fictional example of risking one’s own life to help others. But knowing that there are real-life heroes like these men can be even more inspiring.
The empathy-altruism hypothesis proposes that feelings of compassion create a purely altruistic motivation to help (see Batson, 1991, 1998; Toi & Batson, 1982). While Batson, the major proponent of this hypothesis, doesn’t deny that all of the egoistic reasons for helping also exist, he argues that pure altruism is, indeed, possible. Batson’s foundational idea is that when we see people who need help, we empathize with them; we put ourselves in their shoes and feel compassion.
However, simply feeling empathy is not enough to predict helping—in this model, feeling empathy is necessary but not sufficient. To follow our compassion with actual prosocial behaviors, we must also:
•    be capable of helping (e.g., we may not offer to help a friend with calculus homework if we don’t understand the subject),
•    perceive that our help will actually benefit the person (e.g., we might not waste our time simply pretending to help), and
•    perceive that our help will be more beneficial than someone else’s help (e.g., we might not volunteer to lead a group if someone else is available who has more experience or expertise).
Thus, the empathy-altruism hypothesis suggests that pure altruism is possible, under the right circumstances. A classic study by Batson and his team (Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley, & Birch, 1981) asked women participants to listen while another young woman received painful electric shocks (as you might have suspected, no one actually got shocked in the study; the shocks were just the cover story and an example of experimental deception that the IRB allowed because it was necessary for the study to work). Participants also heard the woman explain that due to a childhood accident, she was particularly sensitive to shocks.
When the experimenter asked each participant if she was willing to take the other woman’s place, most of them agreed. This happened even though the participants thought their own part of study was done and they could go home (that is, they could easily escape from the situation). It is also interesting to note that participants were especially likely to volunteer to take the shocks if they believed that the other woman was very similar to themselves in attitudes and interests, which presumably helped the participants empathize with her.
Participants in the study thus volunteered to experience painful shocks, for no compensation, for a woman who was a stranger. While other researchers have argued that this prosocial choice may have, again, been due to things like avoiding feelings of guilt later (Schaller & Cialdini, 1988), it is hard to believe that empathy for the woman played no role in their decision to help. The people at the start of this chapter, such as the twin astronauts, the White Helmets, and Malala Yousafzai, all made significant sacrifices to help others. It may be that they did this simply because they want to help other people, despite the relatively high cost to their own lives—which would be pure altruism.
The Main Ideas
•    Prosocial behavior is behavior designed to help others. Two theoretical reasons for helping are (1) pure altruism, or helping simply to benefit another person, or (2) egoistic altruism, helping because it somehow benefits the self.
•    According to the evolutionary perspective, prosocial behaviors evolved because they help one’s group survive and because people who helped more received greater opportunities for reproduction. Helping may also increase survival if it is reciprocated by others in the future.
•    Two …

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