Pro-social behaviour

Would you help a stranger if it looked like they were in trouble? What if there were lots of other people around, and you thought they would be better suited to help, or they just didn’t look that worried?

Most people would be certain that regardless of the circumstances, they’d help someone in need. But is this actually the case?

Pro-social behaviour is when someone actively tries to help someone else, motivated by egoism (to benefit them) or altruism (to benefit someone else).

Helping in emergencies

Helping (or not) depends on certain factors:

– noticing that something is wrong

– defining it as an emergency

– deciding whether or not to take personal responsibility

– deciding what type of help to give

– implementing the decision.

If any of the first 3 steps don’t happen, then the victim will not be helped.

Latané and Darley (1976) identified 3 processes which cause people not to help in social situations:

  1. Diffusion of responsibility: the more people present, the more people think that they don’t need to help, as someone else will.
  2. Pluralistic ignorance: if there is high ambiguity about the situation then bystanders feel more uncertainty, and are less likely to help. As each bystander hesitates, they ‘model’ passivity for the others.
  3. Evaluation apprehension: other people being present causes you to feel uneasy, as they will witness your intervention if you choose to help.

These researchers provided evidence for this theory in a study in which participants were sat in a room while they completed a questionnaire. White smoke then started coming into the room through a vent, and they observed what the participant would do if they were alone, with two passive confederates (actors who were told not to react) or three naive participants.

If the participant was alone, then about 75% reported the smoke after 4 minutes. However, if they were with the two passive confederates, only 10% reported the smoke. This shows the influence of others on our behaviour.

Why do some people help?

Several studies have shown that being in a good mood increases your likelihood of helping. Isen and Levin (1972) used a mood induction method of failing or succeeding at a task to make participants in a good or bad mood. A confederate then dropped their books nearby. They found that participants in a good mood were more likely to help than those in a bad mood, and suggested that this is because their attention is turned outwards so will notice if someone needs help.

There is also a certain personality trait which makes people more likely to help. Isen et al (1997) identified 4 personality variables which are high in people who show pro-social behaviour:

  1. Social responsibility
  2. Belief in a just world
  3. Empathy and concern with others’ welfare
  4. Self-efficacy – confidence that their actions will be successful.

I hope you found this post interesting, did it made you think about when you would help others? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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