Helping Behavior

The following is an excerpt from “More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews,” (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Banyard, Victoria L. 2008. Measurement and correlates of prosocial bystander behavior: the case of interpersonal violence. Violence and Victims 23:83-97.

The field of social psychology has long investigated the role of prosocial bystanders in assisting crime victims and helping in emergency situations. This research has usually been experimental and has established important principles about the conditions under which individuals will choose to engage in prosocial bystander behaviors. More recently, interest has grown in applying this work to the important practical problem of preventing interpersonal violence in communities. Yet, to date, there has been little research on the role of bystanders in cases of interpersonal violence. The current study is thus exploratory. Using a sample of 389 undergraduates, the study discusses key issues in the development of measures to investigate these questions and presents preliminary analyses of correlates of bystander behavior in the context of sexual and intimate partner violence.

Batson, C. Daniel, Jakob Hakansson Eklund, Valerie L. Chermok, Jennifer L. Hoyt, and Biaggio G. Ortiz. 2007.“An additional antecedent of empathic concern: Valuing the welfare of the person in need.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93:65-74.

Two experiments examined the role of valuing the welfare of a person in need as an antecedent of empathic concern. Specifically, these experiments explored the relation of such valuing to a well-known antecedent-perspective taking. In Experiment 1, both perspective taking and valuing were manipulated, and each independently increased empathic concern, which, in turn, increased helping behavior. In Experiment 2, only valuing was manipulated. Manipulated valuing increased measured perspective taking and, in part as a result, increased empathic concern, which, in turn, increased helping. Valuing appears to be an important, largely overlooked, situational antecedent of feeling empathy for a person in need.

Bshary, Redouan., and R. Bergmüller. 2008. “Distinguishing four fundamental approaches to the evolution of helping.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21:405-420.

The evolution and stability of helping behaviour has attracted great research efforts across disciplines. However, the field is also characterized by a great confusion over terminology and a number of disagreements, often between disciplines but also along taxonomic boundaries. In an attempt to clarify several issues, we identify four distinct research fields concerning the evolution of helping: (1) basic social evolution theory that studies helping within the framework of Hamilton’s inclusive fitness concept, i.e. direct and indirect benefits, (2) an ecological approach that identifies settings that promote life histories or interaction patterns that favour unconditional cooperative and altruistic behaviour, e.g. conditions that lead to interdependency or interactions among kin, (3) the game theoretic approach that identifies strategies that provide feedback and control mechanisms (protecting from cheaters) favouring cooperative behaviour (e.g. pseudo-reciprocity, reciprocity), and (4) the social scientists’ approach that particularly emphasizes the special cognitive requirements necessary for human cooperative strategies. The four fields differ with respect to the ‘mechanisms’ and the ‘conditions’ favouring helping they investigate. Other major differences concern a focus on either the life-time fitness consequences or the immediate payoff consequences of behaviour, and whether the behaviour of an individual or a whole interaction is considered. We suggest that distinguishing between these four separate fields and their complementary approaches will reduce misunderstandings, facilitating further integration of concepts within and across disciplines.

Flynn, Francis J., and Vanessa Lake. 2008. “If you need help, just ask: underestimating compliance with direct requests for help.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95:128-143.

A series of studies tested whether people underestimate the likelihood that others will comply with their direct requests for help. In the first 3 studies, people underestimated by as much as 50% the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help, across a range of requests occurring in both experimental and natural field settings. Studies 4 and 5 demonstrated that experimentally manipulating a person’s perspective (as help seeker or potential helper) could elicit this underestimation effect. Finally, in Study 6, the authors explored the source of the bias, finding that help seekers were less willing than potential helpers were to appreciate the social costs of refusing a direct request for help (the costs of saying “no”), attending instead to the instrumental costs of helping (the costs of saying “yes”).

Hendriks, Michelle, Marcel A. Croon, and Ad Vingerhoets. 2008. “Social reactions to adult crying: The help-soliciting function of tears.” Journal of Social Psychology 148:22-41.

The authors investigated how people believe they respond to crying individuals. Participants (N = 530) read 6 vignettes describing situations in which they encountered a person who either cried or did not cry. Participants reported they would give more emotional support to and express less negative affect toward a crying person than a noncrying person. However, regression analyses revealed that participants judged a crying person less positively than a non-crying person and felt more negative feelings in the presence of a crying person than a non-crying person. The valence of the situation strongly moderated these reactions. Overall, results support the theory that crying is an attachment behavior designed to elicit help from others.

Kunstman, Jonathan W., and E. Ashby Plant. 2008. “Racing to help: Racial bias in high emergency helping situations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95:1499-1510.

The present work explored the influence of emergency severity on racial bias in helping behavior. Three studies placed participants in staged emergencies and measured differences in the speed and quantity of help offered to Black and White victims. Consistent with predictions, as the level of emergency increased, the speed and quality of help White participants offered to Black victims relative to White victims decreased. In line with the authors’ predictions based on an integration of aversive racism theory and the arousal: cost-reward perspective on prosocial behavior, severe emergencies with Black victims elicited high levels of aversion from White helpers, and these high levels of aversion were directly related to the slower help offered to Black victims but not to White victims (Study 1). In addition, the bias was related to White individuals’ interpretation of the emergency as less severe and themselves as less responsible to help Black victims rather than White victims (Studies 2 and 3). Study 3 also illustrated that emergency racial bias is unique to White individuals’ responses to Black victims and not evinced by Black helpers. (APA)

Lindsey, Lisa L. Massi, Kimo Ah Yun, and Jennifer B. Hill. 2007. “Anticipated guilt as motivation to help unknown others: An examination of empathy as a moderator.” Communication Research 34:468-480.

Previous research finds that messages that induce substantial perceptions of (a) an unknown-other directed threat, (b) response-efficacy, and © self-efficacy result in feelings of anticipated guilt that subsequently motivate behavioral intent, and ultimately, behaviors to avert the threat to unknown others. It is not clear, however, if certain individual differences make people more or less likely to experience anticipatory guilt. To this end, this study asks whether empathic concern and perspective taking moderates the relationship between exposure to such a message and anticipated guilt. This question is tested by focusing on the topic of bone marrow donation. Participants are assigned randomly to 1 of 3 message conditions and complete a questionnaire designed to assess perspective taking, empathic concern, and anticipated guilt. The data indicate that the message has a substantial direct effect on guilt anticipation, and neither a direct effect for the empathy dimensions nor an interaction effect between empathy and anticipated guilt are present.

Levine, Robert V., Stephen Reysen, and Ellen Ganz. 2008 .”The kindness of strangers revisited: A comparison of 24 U.S. cities.” Social Indicators Research 85:461-481.

Three field studies compared helping behavior across a sample of 24 small, medium and large cities across the United States. The relationship of helping to statistics reflecting the demographic, social, and economic characteristics of these communities was then examined. The strongest predictors of city differences in helping were population size, population density, economic purchasing power and, to a somewhat lesser extent, walking speed. Changes in several community variables over the past decade were also associated with helping: population size, economic well-being as measured by both purchasing power and poverty rates, and crime rates. These data were compared to similar data collected 13-15 years ago. (SocAbs)

Miller, Christian B. 2009. “Empathy, social psychology, and global helping traits.” Philosophical Studies 142:247-275.

The central virtue at issue in recent philosophical discussions of the empirical adequacy of virtue ethics has been the virtue of compassion. Opponents of virtue ethics such as Gilbert Harman and John Doris argue that experimental results from social psychology concerning helping behavior are best explained not by appealing to so-called ‘global’ character traits like compassion, but rather by appealing to external situational forces or, at best, to highly individualized ‘local’ character traits. In response, a number of philosophers have argued that virtue ethics can accommodate the empirical results in question. My own view is that neither side of this debate is looking in the right direction. For there is an impressive array of evidence from the social psychology literature which suggests that many people do possess one or more robust global character traits pertaining to helping others in need. But at the same time, such traits are noticeably different from a traditional virtue like compassion.

Nakao, Hisashi, and Shoji Itakura. 2009. “An integrated view of empathy: Psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience.” Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science 43:42-52.

In this paper, we will examine and untangle a conflict mainly between a developmental psychologist, Martin Hoffman and a social psychologist, Daniel Batson. According to Hoffman, empathic distress, a vicarious feeling through empathy, is transformed into an altruistic motivation. Batson and others on the other hand, criticize Hoffman, claiming that empathic altruism has no relation with empathic distress. We will point out some problems with Batson’s position by referring to the results of fMRI experiments that suggest empathic distress and empathic altruism share a common basis, and defend Hoffman’s argument. This will also offer new insights into the evolution of empathy.

Sprecher, Susan, Beverly Fehr and Corinne Zimmerman. 2007. “Expectation for mood enhancement as a result of helping: The effects of gender and compassionate love.” Sex Roles 56:43-549.

Several theoretical perspectives in the social psychology literature on helping suggest that people forecast the benefit that they will receive as a result of helping others, and help only if they determine that it is rewarding to do so. One type of self-benefit that can be received from helping is an enhancement of positive mood. The major hypotheses of the present study were: (1) women, to a greater degree than men, would expect to experience enhanced positive mood as a consequence of both helping and receiving help in a relational context; and (2) those who are high in compassionate love for others would expect to experience enhanced positive mood from giving and receiving help relative to those who are lower on compassionate love. Support was found for both hypotheses. In addition, women were more likely than men to rate certain helping behaviors in a relational context (e.g., providing verbal support) as good examples of “compassionate love acts.” The meaning of the results with respect to altruism and for gender differences in

Shaw, Eric K. 2008. “Fictive kin and helping behavior: A social psychosocial exploration among Haitian immigrants, Christian fundamentalists, and gang members.” Sociation Today 6. (

This paper is primarily about why individuals choose to help others. Kinship is an important concept in research on helping behavior with common distinctions made between kin, non-kin, and fictive kin. Unrelated individuals become ‘adopted’ family members who accept the affection, obligations and duties of ‘real’ kin. Understanding more about the subjective nature of fictive kin relations is important for understanding individual motivations for engaging in various helping behaviors. Gang members are found to use fictive kin terminology and gangs are a substitute family for members. Adapted from the source document. (SocAbs)

Tang, Thomas Li-Ping, et al. 2008. “To help or not to help? The Good Samaritan Effect and the Love of Money on helping behavior.” Journal of Business Ethics 82:865-887.

This research tests a model of employee helping behavior (a component of Organizational Citizenship Behavior, OCB) that involves a direct path (Intrinsic Motives → Helping Behavior, the Good Samaritan Effect) and an indirect path (the Love of Money → Extrinsic Motives → Helping Behavior). Results for the full sample supported the Good Samaritan Effect. Further, the love of money was positively related to extrinsic motives that were negatively related with helping behavior. We tested the model across four cultures (the USA., Taiwan, Poland, and Egypt). The Good Samaritan Effect was significant for all four countries. For the indirect path, the first part was significant for all countries, except Egypt, whereas the second part was significant for Poland only. For Poland, the indirect path was significant and positive. The love of money may cause one to help in one culture (Poland) but not to help in others. Results were discussed in the light of ethical decision making.