Social Psychology - Chapter 14

How and why does supportive behavior and cooperation arise? - Chapter 14

Prosocial behavior is defined as any behavior whose immediate purpose is to help someone else. This can concern everyday, small things as well as heroic deeds. Just as with aggressive behavior, it is the intention with which behavior is initiated and not the consequences of it, that the behavior is defined as prosocial. What motivates prosocial behavior? One possible motive to help is altruism, which is behavior that is meant to help someone else, without thinking of possible future rewards / thanks in mind. So it implies behavior that is purely and solely focused on helping the other person, with no prospect of a reward for the helper. Just as with aggressive behavior, there are often several motives that trigger a single (pro-social) act. Selfishness is the behavior that is controlled by the prospect of a reward for the helper.

Prosocial behavior is the behavior that aims to help other people and is strengthened by, among other things, parents' way of being educated or by a religion with strong norms that promote caring for others.

When does helping behavior occur

For the provision of help it is important that the need for help is observed. Busy environments sometimes want to stand in the way. In order to express helping behavior, it is not only sufficient to perceive the need for help, but we will also consider whether the person seeking help deserves our help. The standard of social responsibility states that those who are able to take good care of themselves have the task and obligation to assist those who can not. The social reciprocity standard also promotes assistance behavior. Role models, religion and upbringing can also promote helping behavior.

Especially in individualistic (Western) cultures, the attributions we make with regard to control play a major role in determining whether we think that the other person deserves help. More specifically, if we think that people are in need due to their own actions, we are less motivated to help than when we think that someone could do little or nothing about the situation.

Even when people feel that help is needed and deserved, this does not always lead to help behavior. If, for example, others are present, this makes sure that someone else helps less quickly. The more others there are, the less accountability is felt and the smaller the chance to offer help. This is also called diffusion of responsibility. The urban overload hypothesis states that people lack support behavior for lack of anonymity than when they are anonymous (when you need help you can call better: "you in that red shirt, help!", Instead of "help!" ). Even if others do not offer help, people are less likely to help. People are less inclined to assess the situation as an emergency. People also think that bystanders will help, this is called the bystander effect. Ambiguous situations also reduce the chance of assistance behavior. A positive mood, however, ensures that people need help more quickly.

Yet there are also standards that do not promote the provision of assistance. These are the standards of family privacy and the norm of 'do not interfere with other people's affairs'. The first standard means that you do not interfere in someone's familial or private life.

Why is there helping behavior?

There are three different reasons why helping other people is beneficial for those who help. First of all it evokes reciprocity. If someone helps someone else, chances are that the helped person will do something to the helper in the future. Helping your own family is ultimately helping yourself because you help your own 'type' with it. In addition, the altruistic group members help the group in general, and indirectly also themselves. The social exchange theory states that, before offering help, someone thinks about the possible consequences, yields are weighed against the costs of the assistance behavior. Social pressure is often more important here than own principles (Darley & Batson, 1973)

Evolutionary principles suggest that some forms of assistive behavior, such as reciprocal support behavior or helping your offspring, are naturally selected because they increase the chance of survival. In humans, however, there are cognitive and social processes that influence such biological drives. The two other motives for helping someone come down to the need for control and reward, and the desire for solidarity with other people (through empathy and altruism).

Providing help to another gives the helper a good feeling because it keeps positive moods intact and suppresses negative moods. In general, the case requires men to show help more quickly than women because men themselves have the idea that they can provide good help.


Many people wonder whether helping behavior is not simply generated by selfishness. For example, the negative-state relief model of helping (Schaller and Cialdini, 1988) states that help behavior comes from egoistic motives. For example, we would help people who are less fortunate, because then we will lose the miserable feeling about that. However, it is important to take into account that negative emotions that focus on the self only make auxiliary behavior less likely. This is because at such a moment the need for help from others can not be properly observed.

Batson et al. (1981) developed the empathy altruism model. Here it was stated that one can have two different emotions if one sees someone suffering. First of all, experiencing personal misery, such as fear and panic, can lead to egotistic help behavior. In addition, people can also get empathetic concerns, feelings of pity and sympathy, which ensure that altruistic help behavior will be shown. The extent to which people empathise is, as seen, a predictor of the support behavior that they will show. In general, we can empathize more quickly with people we feel connected to.


In all cultures, but especially in interdependent cultures, people mainly help people who belong to their own group. Choosing between the group interest or self-interest is also called a social dilemma. There are two main types of social dilemmas:

  • Dilemmas about resource exhaustion. This is a dilemma in which a particular resource is central. Once an individual uses the resource, it will be able to replenish itself, while the resource will be exhausted when the entire group uses it.

  • Public goods dilemmas. These dilemmas are about the availability of public goods, which depends on the individual contribution by the group.

Usually the individual is better off if there is no choice for cooperation, while the group as a whole benefits more from working together, according to Dawes (1980).

People who focus more on cooperation from themselves will cooperate more often in the above dilemmas. In interdependent cultures, people are also more focused on cooperation. In addition, women are often more cooperative than men.

Usually one chooses selfishly, so for the outcome with the highest self-interest. This is reinforced as soon as you have the idea that the others will do the same. A solution for promoting the choice of group interests is the drafting of laws and regulations. At such a time, someone is needed who imposes the rules and a party that monitors compliance. The imposition of rules and laws can ultimately lead to resistance.

There are a number of factors that ensure that people think about group interests more quickly. Identification with the group is one of them. As soon as identification takes place, the higher goal of the group gets a high priority and trust of group members on fellow group members increases. In addition, group standards that promote cooperation are considered important. Cooperation is also promoted by the following factors:

  • The extent to which group standards are accessible.

  • Linking the effort to the higher goal of the group.

  • Good communication within the group.

  • The extent to which outcomes are the same for all group members. If this level is high, this will promote cooperation.

Yet it is important that the difference between identification and altruism is seen. They are two different things, where identification leads to cooperation, while altruism leads to the benefit of certain group members. Altruism does not always have a good effect on the group as a whole.

Processing methods for help and cooperation

Spontaneous assistance behavior arises from superficial processing and was not planned in advance. In the case of lack of time and excitement, people are more likely to act according to their most accessible motives and norms. Priming is a way in which certain constructs become more accessible and thus influence behavior.

Systematic processing is the basis for planned assistance behavior. These are based on extensive reflection and are reinforced by the accessibility of the assistance behavior.

Help behavior has various motives:

  • Career perspectives

  • Solving personal problems

  • Increasing personal development and self-esteem

  • Expressing personal values

  • Cultivating understanding

  • Getting a rating from others

  • Gaining new knowledge and skills.

Auxiliary behavior appears to rely mainly on situational factors rather than on the personality of the helper, according to Piliavin et al. (1981). Other studies, however, claim that there are two personality traits that are important in assistive behavior. These are empathy and caring for the well-being of others and self-motivation (the trust in the correctness of actions)

Prosocial behavior

Help is felt to be especially positive once the aid has the aim of reducing physical suffering or when it creates a positive bond between helper and help-seeking. The helper gives this feeling of pride and the person seeking help feels grateful for the help offered. As soon as the requesting person does not have the possibility to give something back to the helper, help is perceived as negative.

Help can be divided into two aspects. These are the self-supporting aspect, which leads to feelings of gratitude and the self-threatening aspect, which lead to disgusted feelings.

Men tend to see help as a threat to their status, while women experience asking for help much more as an opportunity to build a positive relationship.

There are a number of ways to increase assistance and our chances of receiving help when we need it:

  • Reduce ambiguity: Clarify the need for help.

  • Assigning behavior ("attributing") to internal factors increases the likelihood of repetition of auxiliary behavior.

  • Learning pro-social behavior, for example in schools.

  • Activating pro-social norms by, for example, making people more self-aware which leads to assistance behavior.

  • "Infuse, do not diffuse, responsiblity". In other words: increase responsibility. It is more convenient to direct the request for help directly to one person.

  • Increasing the connection leads to more help behavior.

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