Helping behavior refers to voluntary actions intended to help others, with reward regarded or disregarded. It is a type of prosocial behavior (voluntary action intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals,[1] such as sharing, comforting, rescuing and helping).

Workers and people from the nearby town helping repair a water borehole in Ghana

Altruism is distinguished from helping behavior in this way: Altruism refers to prosocial behaviors that are carried out without expectation of obtaining external reward (concrete reward or social reward) or internal reward (self-reward). An example of altruism would be anonymously donating to charity.[2]

Perspectives on helping behavior[clarification needed] edit

Kin selection theory edit

Kin selection theory explains altruism from an evolutionary perspective. Since natural selection screens out species without abilities to adapt to the challenging environment, preservation of good traits and superior genes are important for survival of future generations (i.e. inclusive fitness).[3] Kin selection refers to an inheritable tendency to perform behaviors that may favor the chance of survival of people with a similar genetic base.[4]

W. D. Hamilton proposed a mathematical expression for the kin selection:


"where B is the benefit to the recipient, C is the cost to the altruist (both measured as the number of offspring gained or lost) and r is the coefficient of relationship (i.e. the probability that they share the same gene by descent)."[5]

An experiment conducted in Britain supported kin selection[5] It is illustrated[clarification needed] by diagram below. The result showed that people were more willing to provide help to people with higher relatedness, something which occurs in both genders and in various cultures. The result also shows gender difference in kin selection: men are more affected by cues suggesting a similar genetic base than women.


Reciprocal altruism edit

Reciprocal altruism is the idea that the incentive for an individual to help in the present is based on the expectation of receipt of help in the future.[6] Robert Trivers believes it is advantageous for an organism to pay a cost for the benefit of another non-related organism if the favor is repaid (when the benefit of the sacrifice outweighs the cost).

As Peter Singer[7] notes, “reciprocity is found amongst all social mammals with long memories who live in stable communities and recognize each other as individuals.” Individuals should identify cheaters (those who do not reciprocate help) who lose the benefit of help from them in the future, as seen, for example, in blood-sharing by vampire bats.[8]

Economic trade and business[9] may be fostered by reciprocal altruism in which products given and received involve different exchanges.[10] Economic trades follow the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” principle. A pattern of frequent giving and receiving of help among workers boosts both productivity and social standing.

Reciprocal altruism

Negative-state relief model edit

The negative-state relief model of helping[11] states that people help because of egoism. Egoistic motives lead a person to help others in bad circumstances in order to reduce personal distress experienced from knowing the situation of the people in need. Helping behavior happens only when the personal distress cannot be relieved by other actions. This model also explains people's avoidance behavior when they notice people in need: this is an alternative way for them to reduce their own distress.

Supporting studies edit

In one study, guilt feelings were induced in subjects by having them accidentally ruin a student's thesis data or by them seeing the data being ruined. Some subjects experienced positive events afterwards, e.g. being praised. Subjects who experienced negative guilt feelings were more motivated to help than those who had a neutral emotion. However, once the negative mood was relieved by receiving praise, subjects no longer had high motivation to help.[12]


A second study found that people who anticipate positive events (in this case, listening to a comedy tape), show low helping motivation since they are expecting their negative emotions to be lifted up by the upcoming stimulation.[11]

Empathy-altruism hypothesis edit

People may initiate helping behavior when they feel empathy for the person they are helping—when they can relate to that person and feel and understand what that person is experiencing.[13]

Daniel Batson's Empathy-altruism hypothesis[14] asserts that the decision of whether to help or not is primarily influenced by the presence of empathy towards the person in need, and secondarily by factors like the potential costs and rewards (social exchange concerns).

The hypothesis was supported by a study that divided participants into a high-empathy group and a low-empathy group.[15] Both groups listened to Janet, a fellow student, sharing her feelings of loneliness. The results indicated that the high-empathy group (instructed to vividly imagine Janet's emotions) volunteered to spend more time with her, regardless of whether their help remained anonymous[clarification needed]. This finding underscores the idea that empathetic individuals are more likely to provide assistance, without being primarily motivated by considerations of costs and rewards, thus lending support to the empathy-altruism hypothesis..

Responsibility — prosocial value orientation edit

A strong influence on helping is feeling responsible to help, especially when combined with the belief that one can help other people. The feeling of responsibility can result from a situation that focuses responsibility on a person, or it can be a personal characteristic (leading to helping when activated by others' need). Ervin Staub described a "prosocial value orientation" that makes helping more likely when noticing a person in physical distress or psychological distress. Prosocial orientation was also negatively related to aggression in boys, and positively related to "constructive patriotism". The components of this orientation are a positive view of human beings, concern about others' welfare, and a feeling of and belief in one's responsibility for others' welfare.[16]

Social exchange theory edit

According to the social-exchange theory, people help because they want to gain goods from the one being helped.[17] People estimate the rewards and costs of helping others, and aim at maximizing the former and minimizing the latter.

Rewards are incentives, which can be material goods, social rewards which can improve one's image and reputation (e.g. praise), or self-reward[clarification needed].[18]

Rewards are either external or internal. External rewards are things that are obtained from others when helping them, for instance, friendship and gratitude. People are more likely to help those who are more attractive or important, whose approval is desired.[19] Internal reward is generated by oneself when helping. This can be, for example, a sense of goodness and self-satisfaction. When seeing someone in distress, we may empathize with that person and thereby become aroused and distressed. We may choose to help in order to reduce this arousal and distress.[20] According to this theory, before helping, people consciously calculate the benefits and costs of helping and not helping, and they help when the overall benefit to themselves of helping outweighs the cost.[21]


Implications edit

Cultural differences edit

A major cultural difference is between collectivism and individualism. Collectivists attend more to the needs and goals of the group they belong to, while individualists focus on themselves. This might suggest that collectivists would be more likely to help ingroup members, and would help strangers less frequently than would individualists.[22]

Economic environment edit

Helping behavior is influenced by the economic environment. In general, frequency of helping behavior in a country is inversely related to the country's economic status[clarification needed].[23]

Rural vs. urban area edit

A meta-analytical study found out that at either extreme, urban (300,000 people or more) or rural environments (5,000 people or less), are the worst places if you're looking for help.[24]

Choosing a role edit

Edgar Henry Schein describes three different roles people may follow when they respond to requests for help: The Expert Resource Role, The Doctor Role, The Process Consultant Role.[25]: 53–54 

Expert Resource Role
This is the most common. It assumes that the person being helped is seeking information or expert service that they cannot provide for themselves. For example, simple issues like asking for directions or more complex issues like an organization hiring a financial consultant will fall into this category.[25]: 54–57 
Doctor Role
This can be confused with the Expert Role because they seem to overlap each other. This role includes the client asking for information and service but also demands a diagnosis and prescription. Doctors, counselors, coaches, and repair personnel fulfill this kind of role. Contrary to the expert role, the Doctor Role shifts more power to the helper who is responsible for those duties: diagnosing, prescribing, and administering the cure.[25]: 57–61 
Process Consultant Role
Here the helper focuses on the communication process from the very beginning. Before help can start, there needs to be an establishment of trust between the helper and the client. For example, in order for a tech consultant to be effective, he or she has to take a few minutes to discuss what the situation is, how often the problem occurs, what has been tried before, etc. before transitioning into the expert role or the doctor role.[25]: 61–64 

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^
    • Eisenberg, Nancy; Mussen, Paul Henry (1989). The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33771-2.
    • Siegler, Robert S. (2006). How children develop, exploring child development student media tool kit & Scientific American Reader to accompany how children develop. New York: Worth Publishers. ISBN 0-7167-6113-0.
  2. ^ Miller, P.A.; Bernzweig, J.; Eisenberg, N.; Fabes, R.A. (1991). "The development and socialization of prosocial behavior". In Hinde, Robert Aubrey; Groebel, Jo (eds.). Cooperation and Prosocial Behaviour. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 54–77. ISBN 0-521-39999-8.
  3. ^
  4. ^
    • Hoffman, M.L. (1981). "Is altruism part of human nature?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 40 (1): 121–137.
    • Sober, E.; Wilson, D.S. (1998). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
    • Michael, F.C. (1984). "Co-operative breeding by the Australian Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys Latham: A test of kin selection theory". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 14: 137–146.
  5. ^ a b Madsen, E.A.; Tunney, R.J.; Fieldman, G.; Plotkin, H.C.; Dunbar, R.I.M.; Richardson, J.; McFarland, D. (2007). "Kinship and altruism: A cross-cultural experimental study". British Journal of Psychology. 98 (2): 339–359.
  6. ^ Trivers, Robert (1971). "The evolution of reciprocal altruism". Quarterly Review of Biology. 46: 35–56.
  7. ^ Singer, Peter (1994). Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University.
  8. ^ Wilkinson, G.S. (1984). "Reciprocal Food Sharing in the Vampire Bat". Nature. 308: 181–184.
  9. ^ Loch, C.H.; Wu, Y. (2007). "Behavioral Operations Management". Foundations and Trends in Technology, Information and Operations Management. 1 (3): 121–232.
  10. ^ Kaplan, H.; Hill, K. (1985). "Food Sharing among Ache Foragers: Tests of Explanatory Hypotheses". Current Anthropology. 26: 223–245.
  11. ^ a b Fultz, J.; Schaller, M.; Cialdini, R.B. (1988). "Empathy, sadness and distress: Three related but distinct vicarious affective responses to anothers' suffering". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 14: 312–315.
  12. ^ Cialdini, R.B.; Darby, B.L.; Vincent, J.E. (1973). "Transgression and altruism: a case of hedonism". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 9 (6): 501–516.
  13. ^
    • Aronson, E.; Wilson, T.D.; Akert, R.M. (1997). Social Psychology (2nd ed.). U.S.: Addison-Ewsley Educational Publishers Inc.[page needed]
    • Gilovich, T.; Keltner, D.; Nisbett, R.E. (2006). Social Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton.[page needed]
  14. ^ Batson, C.D.; Shaw, L.L. (1991). "Evidence for altruism: Toward a pluralism of prosocial motives". Psychological Inquiry. 2: 107–122.
  15. ^ Fultz, J.; Batson, C.D.; Fortenbach, V.A.; McCarthy, P.M.; Varney, L. (1986). "Social evaluation and the empathy altruism hypothesis". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 50: 761–769.
  16. ^ Staub, Ervin (2003). The psychology of good and evil: What leads children, adults and groups to help and harm others. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 592. ISBN 0-521-52880-1.
  17. ^ Foa, U.G.; Foa, E.B. (1975). Resource theory of social exchange. Morrisontown, N.J.: General Learning Press.
  18. ^
    • Campbell, D.T. (1975). "On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psychology and moral tradition". American Psychologist. 30: 1103–1126.
    • Nowak, M.A.; Sigmund, K. (1998). "Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring". Nature. 393: 573–576.
    • Nowak, M.A.; Page, K.M.; Sigmund, K. (2000). "Fairness versus reason in the ultimatum game". Science. 289: 1773–1775.
    • Gilovich, T.; Keltner, D.; Nisbett, R.E. (2006). Social Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton.[page needed]
  19. ^
    • Krebs, D. (1970). "Altruism—An examination of the concept and a review of the literature". Psychological Bulletin. 72: 258–302.
    • Unger, R.K. (April 1979), "Whom does helping help?", Eastern Psychological Association convention
  20. ^ Piliavin, J.A.; Piliavin, I.M. (1973), The Good Samaritan: Why does he help? Unpublished manuscript, University of Wisconsin
  21. ^ Myers, D.G. (1999). Social psychology (6th ed.). United States of America: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.[page needed]
  22. ^ Triandis, H.C. (1991). "Cross-cultural differences in assertiveness/competition vs. group loyalty/cooperation". In Hinde, R.A.; Groebel, J. (eds.). Cooperation and prosocial behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 78–88.
  23. ^ Levine, R.V.; Norenzayan, A.; Philbrick, K. (2001). "Cross-cultural differences in helping strangers". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 32 (5): 543–560.
  24. ^ Steblay, N.M. (1987). "Helping behavior in rural and urban environments: A meta-analysis". Psychology Bulletin. 102: 346–356.
  25. ^ a b c d Schein, Edgar H. (2009). Helping : how to offer, give, and receive help (1st ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Pub. ISBN 978-1-57675-863-2.