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Prosocial Behaviour

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Prosocial Behaviour

People engage in prosocial behaviour from early developmental stages. Whether due to empathy or the perceived benefit of being a good person, we like to do good things and help people around us. As prosocial behaviour is important for maintaining cohesive societies, psychologists are interested in what makes people act prosocially and what factors might prevent us from doing so.

We will examine what factors can prevent us from helping in an emergency and how the presence of other onlookers affects our perception of responsibility to take action.

Prosocial Behaviour, One person donating toys from a box to others,  StudySmarterProsocial behaviour intends to help and support others, freepik.com

Whether it's our time, energy or resources, being prosocial comes with a cost to us (the actor). So why would we engage in behaviour that comes at a cost to us? We act prosocially to benefit other people or to get something out of it, for example, when engaging in cooperation.

Prosocial behaviour definition

Prosocial behaviour refers to actions we take that benefit others (Eisenberg, 1982). Prosocial behaviour is often motivated by concern for others or feeling a responsibility to help.

Prosocial behaviour includes providing emotional support to your friends or taking care of the environment to donating money to charity.

When you and your friend work together on a group project, you both contribute to it and, in this way, benefit one another, which is an example of cooperation.

Helping your friend prepare for an exam because you know they struggle with the content and could use some help is an example of altruism. You don't necessarily gain anything out of it, but you do it to help your friend.

Conforming to social norms can also be an example of prosocial behaviour (e.g. respecting social rules like standing in queues helps keep order in society).

Prosocial behaviour and altruism

How is prosocial behaviour different to altruism? The term prosocial behaviour encompasses all actions that benefit others, no matter if we benefit from them. Prosocial behaviour includes cooperation (when both the actor and recipient benefit from a behaviour) and altruism (when only the recipient benefits).

Altruism occurs when we act to benefit others even though the action doesn't benefit us.

Prosocial Behaviour, two hands clasped together, StudySmarterCooperation is an example of prosocial behaviour, flaticon.com

Theories of prosocial behaviour

Different theories have been proposed to explain why we engage in behaviour that benefits others.

  • Baumeister (2012) proposed that our innate need to belong drives us to cooperate and help others (the need to belong theory).
  • According to the self-categorisation theory, we act prosocially toward the members of our group because we identify with the group.
  • While Leary (2012) argues that people act prosocially to gain the approval and acceptance of the group.
  • Evolutionary factors, empathy, and the influence of cultural norms have also been proposed to play a role in prosocial behaviour.

The bystander effect

Bystander behaviour refers to what we do when we witness an emergency (e.g. when someone's life or wellbeing is in danger).

The bystander effect refers to the social phenomenon of bystanders remaining passive when there are several other witnesses in an emergency, sometimes at a cost to the victim's life.

The most famous example of the bystander effect is the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese. Kitty was murdered in front of her apartment in New York in the 1960s; it was reported 38 people witnessed the murder throughout the course of her assault and eventual murder over the night, but no one stopped the murderer or called for help until it was too late.

Social factors that influence bystander intervention

Social factors refer to external environmental factors or the context of a situation. These include the presence of others and the cost of behaviour. Both of these factors are event specific and can affect people's likelihood to take action in an emergency.

Prosocial Behaviour: Presence of others

Counterintuitively, the more people witness an emergency, the less likely someone will react and attempt to help the victim. Bystanders feel less personal responsibility if there are more people around that could potentially take action, which is called diffusion of responsibility.

Diffusion of responsibility is a phenomenon that describes the relationship between the number of bystanders and the degree of individual responsibility. As the number of bystanders increases, the degree of individual responsibility decreases.

Prosocial Behaviour, Bystander effect illustrated as a graph, StudySmarterAs the number of bystanders increases, individual responsibility decreases, - StudySmarter Originals

If you are in a busy city centre with hundreds of people around and you see a man faint, you feel less personally responsible for taking action, checking up on him and calling an ambulance. After all, many people saw it; surely someone else would take care of it. Perhaps someone more experienced than you. However, if you saw the same thing happen when in the room with the man alone, there is no one else that can help, and you feel more responsible for doing something.

Prosocial Behaviour: The cost of helping

In an emergency, the cost of helping could be the time and effort needed to help, embarrassment caused by not knowing how to offer appropriate help or exposing oneself to risk. One theory of bystander behaviour is that bystanders conduct a risk-benefit analysis and act accordingly.

There is also a cost to not helping, like feelings of guilt and powerlessness, while being the hero can bring positive feelings, such as satisfaction and pride.

Dispositional factors that affect bystander intervention

Dispositional factors refer to internal, individual characteristics (e.g. personality) that can influence one's behaviour to take action in an emergency. These can include the level of expertise and how similar we are to the victim.

Prosocial Behaviour: Expertise

Knowing how to intervene increases confidence in an emergency and makes bystanders more likely to help.

If it's your first time witnessing someone having a seizure, you might have no idea how to react and decide not to react, while someone who is medically trained or at least trained in first aid might feel more confident to take action.

Prosocial Behaviour: Similarity to victim

Similarity to the victim can make bystanders more likely to intervene no matter how many other people remain passive. Similarity involves sharing common identities with the victim (race, gender, common group membership), increasing empathy for them.

We tend to feel strongly for people we are similar to; therefore, we are more likely to take action to help them.

Prosocial Behaviour: Piliavin’s (1969) subway study

Piliavin (1969) found the victim's appearance can influence the likelihood of bystanders helping the victim. Piliavin measured people's responses on the subway in New York after witnessing a victim (an actor) fall over on the subway.

  • A victim who appeared to need help walking and dressed appropriately was helped 95% of the time.

  • A victim who appeared to be drunk was helped only 50% of the time.

  • Moreover, people on the subway took longer to help the drunk victim than the disabled victim.

One explanation for these findings is that a disabled victim evoked more empathy in people than a drunk victim, reflecting how people's attitudes to different groups affect their decision to help.


Prosocial Behaviour - Key takeaways

  • Prosocial behaviour refers to actions that benefit others. Prosocial behaviour includes cooperation and altruism.
  • Prosocial behaviour includes providing emotional support to your friends or taking care of the environment to donating money to charity. Altruism is a type of social behaviour.
  • The bystander effect refers to the social phenomenon of bystanders remaining passive in the presence of other witnesses during an emergency, sometimes at a cost to the victim's life.
  • Both social and dispositional factors can influence prosocial behaviour.
  • Social factors influence the bystander behaviour, such as the presence of others and the cost of helping.
    • More people make us less likely to intervene because of the diffusion of responsibility. As the number of bystanders increases, individual responsibility decreases.
    • If the cost of helping is higher than the benefits of helping, bystanders are less likely to help.
  • The bystander behaviour is affected by dispositional factors like expertise and similarity to the victim.
    • Expertise makes bystanders more confident and more likely to help.
    • Similarity to victim increases feelings of empathy and makes bystanders more likely to intervene.

Frequently Asked Questions about Prosocial Behaviour

Prosocial behaviour refers to actions we take to benefit others (Eisenberg, 1982). A concern for others or feeling a responsibility to help often motivates prosocial behaviour.

The term prosocial behaviour encompasses all actions that benefit others, no matter if we benefit from them. Prosocial behaviour includes cooperation (when both the actor and recipient benefit from a behaviour) and altruism (when only the recipient benefits).

Proactive (motivated by self-gain), reactive (in response to someone's need for help), altruistic (selfless).

Social and dispositional factors can affect prosocial behaviour. For example, the presence of others, cost of helping, expertise, and similarity to the victim can affect the bystander effect.

Social and dispositional factors can affect prosocial behaviour. For example, the bystander effect is affected by the presence of others, cost of helping, expertise, and similarity to the victim.

Final Prosocial Behaviour Quiz

Question

What's the bystander effect? 

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Answer

The expression bystander effect is used to define a phenomenon wherein the more witnesses present in an emergency situation, the less likely people will try to help or interventions in that emergency situation

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Question

When people are more likely to intervene during an emergency?

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Answer

Majority of times, people will help and intervene when there's a few number of witnesses or no one present during the emergency.

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Question

Which are the two important factors in the bystander effect?


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Answer

 The first explanation discusses that people by observing a good number of people being present at the emergency, will not feel a huge pressure to take action. This is defined as diffusion of responsibility. The second explanation is that by observing others not taking action and not intervening, an individual will interpret by thinking that a response is not needed or if taken it would be considered inappropriate.

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Question


Who was Kitty Genovese?

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Answer

 Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old woman murdered in 1964.

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Question

How the bystander effect applies to Kitty Genovese murder?


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Answer

Although there 38 witnesses aware of the incident during that time, Kitty Genovese's attack represents a common psychological phenomenon: the bystander effect. None of the 38 witnesses called the police during the assault.

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Question

What's the decision model structured by two social psychologists?

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Answer

Two social psychologists, Darley & Latane (1968) structured a decision model which involves 5 steps when making a decision.

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Question

Which are the 5 steps of the decision model?


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Answer

1) notice that something is wrong in the situation 

2) observe and define the event as an emergency

3) decide if they should take action and feel responsible

4) implement the chosen behaviour and action

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Question


What is another example and case of bystander effect?

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Answer

Another important case is the on of Ilan Halimi, where 27 witnesses did not attempt to help the young man.

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Question

What is another example of bystander effect?

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Answer

The Richmond High school Incident is an additional example of the bystander effect, where a 15 years old was raped and witnesses did not attempt to help her.

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Question

What's evaluation apprehension?


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Answer

This consists in the fear of being judged by external individual when acting publicly. Individuals may also experience evaluation apprehension when other bystanders are around.

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Question


What's pluralistic ignorance?

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Answer

This can be considered as an outcome to rely on the overt reactions of other people when defining an ambiguous situation.  Pluralist ignorance is observed when an individual is in disagreement with a specific type of thinking but believe that everyone else sticks with it and as a result will follow that line of thinking.

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Question

What's another explanation of the bystander effect?

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Answer

Another example is confusion of responsibility, which usually happens when a bystander is afraid that by helping in emergency situation will lead other to think that they are the perpetrators.

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Question

How is priming defined?

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Answer

Another explanation is priming. Priming happens when an individual is given cues that will have an influence on future actions.

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Question

Why the bystander effect is important?


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Answer

he bystander effect is important to understand because by only being an overlooking or a person walking by an emergency situation and not taking action, this would lead to the death of a person or more people or injury of these.

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Question


How is it possible to present the bystander effect?

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Answer

Psychologist say that by only being aware of the bystander effect it is possible to break the cycle of not helping out during an emergency.

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Question

What type of research did Pilavin carry out? 

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Answer

Field experiment

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Question

What did the Piliavin subway study aim to investigate? 

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Answer

The researchers aimed to investigate if various factors affected whether witnesses' behaviour changed. These include:

  • drunk versus an ill person 
  • whether people were more inclined to help if people were of the same or different race 
  • if seeing others help would cause others to also help 
  • whether the number of bystanders affected the likelihood of helping 

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Question

Did the Piliavin subway study support the bystander theory and diffusion of responsibility theory? 

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Answer

No 

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Question

Which model did Piliavin et al., (1969) propose to explain the results obtained from their study? 

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Answer

Cost-reward model

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Question

What ethical issues in the Piliavin subway study were raised? 

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Answer

The ethical issues in the Piliavin study that could have been raised were:

  • proper informed consent was not obtained.
  • the research could have caused psychological distress in participants.

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Question

What are the strengths of the Piliavin subway study? 

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Answer

The strengths of the Pilivian subways study are:

  • as the study was carried out in a natural setting it had high ecological validity. 
  • the study was carried out on a large sample. This increases the generalisability of the results. 
  • supporting research evidence of the Pilivian subway study has been found. Amato (1986) found that people were more likely to help in a real-life emergency when they were emotionally aroused such as feelings of shock or terror in comparison to those who did not feel this.  

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Question

What are the weaknesses of the Pilivian subway study? 

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Answer

The weaknesses of the Pilivian subway study are:

  • as the study was a field experiment, the variables were naturally occurring. This makes it difficult for researchers to control for extraneous/ confounding variables. These variables can reduce the validity of the research findings.
  • the research was ethnocentric, the study was carried out in the USA. Therefore, the findings may only be representative, and therefore generalisable to the US population.

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Question

Explain Piliavin's cost-reward model.

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Answer

Piliavin proposed the cost-reward model to explain why people helped. This model states that:

  • when passengers observed the staged research scenario it emotionally aroused passengers 
  • the passenger starts to weigh the costs and benefits of dealing with the situation
    • costs: effort, potential harm
    • rewards: praise, reducing the chance of feeling guilt
  • if the individual weighs up the rewards to be higher than the costs then they are likely to help.

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Question

What is the diffusion of responsibility hypothesis? 

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Answer

The diffusion of responsibility hypothesis proposes that people feel less likely the need to help others in distress because more people are present. This is usually thought of because people think that there are others there that can help. 

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Question

According to the Piliavin subway study results, which of the following statements are true? 

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Answer

People are more likely to help someone who is drunk 

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Question

Which gender helped the victims the majority of the time? 

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Answer

Males 

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Question

Is the following statement true or false: race of the victim has little effect on the race of the helper except when the victim is drunk.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following are independent variables investigated in the Piliavin et al., (1969) subway study? 

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Answer

Drunk versus ill victim

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Question

Which of the following are dependent variables investigated in the Piliavin et al., (1996) study? 

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Answer

Drunk versus ill victim 

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Question

Why did Piliavin et al., (1969) use a field experiment?

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Answer

A field experiment was used because:

  • the researchers wanted to investigate the phenomenon in a real-life setting 
  • the researchers were investigating naturally-occurring variables in addition, to manipulating some variables  

Show question

Question

Describe a summary of the procedure used in the Piliavin study?


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Answer

The study took place on an underground train in New York, the train was 7 1/2 minutes long that had no stops. The role of the victims was to fake collapsing after the first station. Two covert observers were discreetly recording participants' behaviour. The role of the model was to help the 'victim' at the end of the journey if none of the participants approached to help. 

Show question

Question

What is prosocial behaviour? 

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Answer

Prosocial behaviour refers to actions we take to benefit others.

Show question

Question

What are examples of prosocial behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Prosocial behaviour includes behaviours ranging from providing emotional support to your friends or taking care of the environment to donating money to charity. 

Show question

Question

What can motivate prosocial behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Prosocial behaviour is often motivated by concern for others or feeling a responsibility to help. 

Show question

Question

How is prosocial behaviour different to altruism? 


Show answer

Answer

The term prosocial behaviour encompasses all actions that benefit others, no matter if we benefit from them as well. 

- > Prosocial behaviour includes both cooperation (when both the actor and recipient benefit from a behaviour) and altruism (when only the recipient benefits). 


Altruism occurs when we act to benefit others even though the action doesn't benefit us in any way. 

Show question

Question

What is altruism?

Show answer

Answer

Altruism occurs when we act to benefit others even though the action doesn't benefit us in any way. 

Show question

Question

What are the theories of prosocial behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

  • Baumeister (2012) proposed that our innate need to belong drives us to cooperate and help others. 
  • According to the Self-categorisation Theory, we act prosocially toward the members of our group because we identify with the group. 
  • While Leary (2012) argues that people act prosocially to gain the approval and acceptance of the group. 
  • Evolutionary factors, empathy, and the influence of cultural norms have also been proposed to play a role in prosocial behaviour.

Show question

Question

Give an example of a bystander effect.

Show answer

Answer

The murder of Kitty Genovese in the 1960s.

Show question

Question

What is bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Bystander behaviour refers to what we do when we witness an emergency situation (e.g. when someone's life or wellbeing is in danger). 

Show question

Question

What is the bystander effect?

Show answer

Answer

The bystander effect refers to the social phenomenon of bystanders remaining passive when there is a number of other witnesses in an emergency, sometimes at a cost to the victim's life. 


Show question

Question

What are social factors?

Show answer

Answer

Social factors refer to external environmental factors or the context in which a situation takes place. 

Show question

Question

What social factors affect bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Presence of others

Cost of helping

Show question

Question

How does the presence of others affect bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

The more people witness an emergency the less likely someone is to react and attempt to help the victim. This is because bystanders feel less personally responsible if there are more people around that could potentially take action.  

Show question

Question

What is the diffusion of responsibility?

Show answer

Answer

The diffusion of responsibility is a phenomenon that describes the relationship between the number of bystanders and the degree of individual responsibility. As the number of bystanders increases the degree of individual responsibility decreases.

Show question

Question

What can the cost of helping involve in an emergency?

Show answer

Answer

In an emergency situation, the cost of helping could be the time and effort that needs to be spent to help, embarrassment caused by not knowing how to offer appropriate help or exposing oneself to a risk. 

Show question

Question

What could the cost of not helping involve (to us) in an emergency situation?

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Answer

Feelings of guilt and powerlessness.

Show question

Question

What are dispositional factors?

Show answer

Answer

Dispositional factors refer to internal, individual characteristics (e.g. personality) that can influence one's behaviour to take action in an emergency.  

Show question

Question

What dispositional factors affect bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Expertise and similarity to the victim.

Show question

Question

How can expertise affect bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

In an emergency, knowing how to intervene (e.g. medical or first aid training) increases one's confidence and makes bystanders more likely to help. 

Show question

Question

How can similarity to the victim affect bystander behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Similarity to the victim can make bystanders more likely to intervene no matter how many other people remain passive. This is because similarity involves sharing common identities with the victim (race, gender, common group membership), increasing empathy for them. 

Show question

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