Pro-social behaviour can be defined as 'any actions that benefit another regardless of the benefits or self-sacrifices of the actor' (Wispe 1972, as cited in Collins 2004). A subcategory of pro-social behaviour is helping behaviour, which can be defined as an intentional behaviour or act that benefits another human being. There are many factors that can facilitate or impede helping behaviour and it is important to recognise the situations in which this may occur.
One of the key events that spurred the interest of psychologists in relation to helping behaviour and what facilitates and impedes such acts was the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 (as cited in Collins 2004). Kitty was walking home from work when she was attacked and murdered by a man. It was claimed that Kitty screamed, shouted and attempted to defend herself. It has been reported that 38 people heard her screams and many witnessed the attack, which lasted for over 40 minutes, from their windows. However, nobody tried to help her and nobody phoned the police. This developed the question as to what causes people to help and act in a 'pro-social' manner.
A further subcategory of helping behaviour is altruistic behaviour (altruism). Altruism is concerned with the motives for carrying out an act of helping, and is a more specific behaviour. Altruism can be defined as 'helping behaviour that is voluntary, costly to the altruist and motivated by something other than the expectation of material or social reward' ( Walster and Piliavin 1972). Altruism differs from helping, in that there is a lack of concern for one's self-interest and that the regard is ultimately for the interest of others.
One of the major interests to psychologists is the concern as to whether altruism really exists and what is truly altruistic. It has been suggested that acts of apparent altruism may be better explained in terms of egoism. Egoism is more concerned with the interest of one's self and less for the interest of others. This therefore allows for the question to arise as to whether altruism truly exists, or whether people may only help in a situation where there may be a certain degree of benefit or reward to themselves.
In a study by Gouldner (1960), he studied social relationships and specifically reciprocity, in which he found evidence that people feel obligated to return benefits they receive from others. Gouldner also claimed that people tend to become adverse to overbenefitting in social support situations and feel more comfortable with underbenefitting. This therefore supports the suggestion that the act of altruism exists, as it appears that the norm of society implies that people do not gear towards gaining benefits in social support situations.
Batson's empathy-altruism hypothesis (Batson et al 1981 as cited in Collins 2004) looks at what facilitates a helping behaviour and considers however that altruistic may be better explained as a consequence of empathy. Empathy involves truly understanding the depth of another's emotional condition or state (i.e. feeling miserable when we meet someone who is miserable). A helping behaviour can therefore be considered to be triggered as a result of empathy when we see somebody who is in distress and requires help. Batson suggests that those who feel a strong sense of empathy towards another are more likely to understand how they may feel in a certain situation and will therefore be more likely to help. Batsons hypothesis suggests that in a situation where a person is in distress, the ability to perceive another's point of view will cause empathic concern. Batson suggests that when we see someone in such a situation, our empathic concern leads to a similar feeling of personal distress. He suggested that any helping behaviour is carried out as a result of egoism and the drive to reduce our own personal distress, rather than as a result of altruism. Fultz et al...