Emotion and Stress - Does Guilt and Sympathy Affect Helping Behavior?

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Helping behavior is perceived as socially acceptable and highly appreciated. Therefore, people tend to praise others when they have helped the needy. We used to think that only those people with positive personality, such as sensitive and kind, perform helping behaviors. Nevertheless, whether one acts good or not also greatly depends on his or her emotional states. Through this psychology project, I found that people are more likely to perform a helping behavior when they feel guilty or sympathetic.

Emotion is an indispensable part of humanity. It is a way for people to understand what they feel towards events and people around. Unlike lower-order animals, emotion helps people to act like a human. Serial killers are emotionless. People with emotionless may probably feel nothing when they are hurting or harming others which are highly unacceptable in society.

Since people tend to engage more when they are happy but withdraw from daily activities when they are upset, we can see that our behaviors are always determined by our emotions. Yet, people tend to perform more helping behaviors when they feel guilty or sympathetic. How do these negative emotions push people to help their neighbors?

Guilt is an emotion that occurs when people believe that they have violated a moral standard while sympathy is the feeling of being sorry for somebody showing that people understand and care about somebody’s problem. They are both negative rather than positive emotions. People do not feel good when they are guilty or sympathetic towards somebody. Is that true people involve more in altruistic behaviors when they are guilty or sympathetic?

There is an experiment conducted by Jean Decety (2009) who is a neuroscientist studying the relationship between guilt, sympathy and helping. He is a professor of Psychology at the University of Chigago and is specialized in affective neuroscience. In the study, student subjects are required to observe their coworkers receiving...
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