Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 14: Why do people help? Helping for mastery and connectedness (pp. 524539)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Biologically Driven Helping: Is Helping in Our Genes? (pp. 524526)
  2. Helping for Mastery: The Personal Rewards and Costs of Helping (pp. 526529)
    1. Rewards and costs of helping
    2. Emotional rewards of helping
    3. Is helping pure egoism?
  3. Helping for Connectedness: Empathy and Altruism (pp. 529531)
  4. Helping for Connectedness: Social Identification and Cooperation (pp. 532539)
    1. Social dilemmas: Self-interest versus group interest
    2. Behavior in social dilemmas
    3. Structural solutions in social dilemmas
    4. Solving social dilemmas: Social identification and cooperation
Biologically Driven Helping: Is Helping in Our Genes?

Helping might have costs for the helper ('s genes), but for the (genes of the) group in general, helping behavior can be favorable. There are three ways in which helping others could benefit the survival of the helper's genes:

Helping behavior in humans is a result of a naturally selected predisposition that is activated and influenced by cognitive and social processes. There are two motives for helping: our desires for mastery and concrete rewards, and connectedness with others.

Helping for Mastery: The Personal Rewards and Costs of Helping
Rewards and costs of helping

According to Batson (1998) there are 11 rewards (e.g., gratitude) that can be gained, and 9 punishments (e.g., the painful aspect of a drowning person) that can be avoided by helping behavior. However, there are also costs of helping behavior, like physical danger. These costs depend on the helper's abilities to help. Men perceive themselves as better able to help than women do, which leads to more helping behavior by men than by women.

Emotional rewards of helping

Helping others gives us a good feeling. It helps to keep our good mood, but also lets us escape from a bad mood. For instance, feelings of guilt make people help more. The reason of this effect could be that helping distracts.

Research activity: Helping

Is helping pure egoism?

The negative-state relief model of helping (Schaller & Cialdini, 1988) says that people help because of egoism. Egoistic motives lead us to help others in bad circumstances in order to reduce the distress we experience from watching the bad situation of the helpee. The negative-state relief model also explains why people walk away instead of helping: this is another way of reducing distress.

However, not all negative emotions do increase helping. When negative emotions are self-focused, people become blind to the opportunity of helping. Only other-focused people help others more when they feel bad, a finding that contradicts the negative-state relief model and adds another motive for helping; the need for connectedness.

Helping for Connectedness: Empathy and Altruism

The empathy-altruism model of Batson et al. (1981) suggests that people can experience two types of emotions when they see someone suffer: personal distress (alarm, anxiety, fear) that leads to egoistic helping, or empathic concern (sympathy, compassion, tenderness) that leads to altruistic behavior. Altruism is motivated by a desire to benefit others. As a result, altruistic people always help, even when they can escape the stressful situation very easily, as was shown in a famous experiment by Batson et al.

As we have seen, the extent to which people empathize with the victim plays a key role in helping behavior. We empathize with the people we feel connected to more than we do with other people. In other words, connectedness facilitates helping.

Case study: Mimicry promotes helping (Van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, & Van Knippenberg, 2004)

Research activity: Imitation and helping

Helping for Connectedness: Social Identification and Cooperation

We help people from our own group more than people from the out-group. This is especially the case in collectivistic cultures.

Social dilemmas: Self-interest versus group interest

In a social dilemma, people have to choose between self-interest and group interest: Each individual group member is better off not cooperating, but all group members are better off if they all cooperate (Dawes, 1980). There are two important types of social dilemma:

Behavior in social dilemmas

In general, most people choose the selfish option: the choice for self-interest, especially when they see other group members make that choice.

Structural solutions in social dilemmas

To make people choose for the group interest, laws and rules are formulated that dictate this choice. However, there are some consequences of this imposed choice:

However, choices are not always selfish, but the results of social dilemmas are a bit more differentiated:

Solving social dilemmas: Social identification and cooperation

What makes people forgo their personal interest for the interests of the group? One key factor is identification with the group. When individuals identify with the group, three changes usually take place:

Other powerful cooperation-promoting factors are:

Identification and altruism are very distinct mechanisms: Identification leads to cooperation, whereas altruism leads to favoring specific members, which is not good for the group as a whole.

Group identification can also make our universal humanity salient, which might explain why we help others who are not members of our own group.

So what does this mean?

Evolutionary principles suggest that some forms of helping, such as reciprocal helping or helping kin, have been naturally selected because they increase survival. In humans, however, cognitive and social processes mediate such biologically driven helping.

Help may be motivated by perceived rewards for the helper, or deterred by perceived costs or risks. These rewards and risks can be emotional: People sometimes help to alleviate their own distress at the victim's suffering, reflecting egoism. People are often motivated by a feeling of empathy to relieve another's suffering, reflecting altruism, because it is not motivated by even indirect or emotional rewards for the helper. In a social dilemma, rewards for each individual are in direct conflict with what is best for the group. However, people can be motivated by feelings of group connectedness to act for the good of the group. When group identification increases commitment to shared goals and norms, social dilemmas can be successfully resolved.

Next topic

Role of superficial or systematic processing in helping and cooperation

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 14 introduction
  2. When do people help?
  3. Why do people help? Helping for mastery and connectedness
  4. Role of superficial or systematic processing in helping and cooperation
  5. Prosocial behavior in society
  6. Chapter overview (PDF)
  7. Fill-in-the-blanks
  8. Multiple-choice questions