What Is Altruistic Behaviour

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Prosocial behaviour covers the broad range of actions intended to benefit one or more people other than oneself, conduct such as; helping, comforting, sharing, and cooperation. Altruism can be described as a subset of these behaviours, for example self-sacrificial helping or helping in the absence of obvious, external rewards. It is also a motivational concept, motivation to increase another person's welfare; in contrast to egoism, the motivation of a person to increase their own welfare. It is argued that altruistic acts may be based on egotistical motives. For example reciprocity, the concept of, ‘You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours', may be an egotistic motivation behind many seemingly altruistic acts. True altruism must be due to empathy to another's situation, and therefore concern for their welfare. Batson (1982) argues that subjects who report that they primarily feel personal distress in response to an emergency are acting in an egotistical, possibly situation-specific, manner. Whereas subjects who predominantly feel empathetic concern for the victim are acting altruistically. According to this view empathy can be seen as a positive personality variable. Others have argued that it is too impractical to define altruism on perceived motivational state, as it is often impossible to tell in each individual case whether behaviour in empathetically motivated or not. Bierhoff (1990) has specified two conditions that could be used to define prosocial behaviour: first of all the intention to benefit another person and secondly the subjects freedom of choice, when the situation arises they can chose to help a victim or just leave. Piliavin and Piliavin (1972) have explained reactions to emergencies in terms personal and situational factors and the consequent rewards and costs of taking action to help. It is argued that subjects weigh up the pros and cons of acting or not acting altruistically prior to any action being taken, a sort of cost-benefit analysis. Their stage model goes as follows: firstly, an emergency creates arousal in a bystander, who is effected by personal standards as well as their perception of the situation. Secondly, such arousal is unpleasant, and therefore must be reduced. Thirdly, how this is accomplished will depend upon doing what is likely to be the least costly thing. Fourthly, there are costs of helping and of not helping, and the probability of helping increases as the cost of not helping increases. The person's aim is to reduce arousal, and if the costs seem too high they will leave the situation, unless this may incur even higher costs. Intervention may be the most effective method of relieving the unpleasant arousal. The costs of becoming involved cover time and potential harm to the helper's self esteem if the help is unwanted or inadequate. The costs of not helping include damage to the person's self-concept and possible criticism from others. There will also be benefits of helping or not helping. For example personal freedom may be taken by helping, the person may not be able to do something that they wanted to do because the have committed themselves to helping. A reward for helping could include a favourable self-concept, as well as the gratitude of the victim and positive regard by others. The decision is made by considering a balance of these rewards and costs (Hollander, 1981). Time is a situational factor that influences decision. Darley and Batson (1973) conducted a study upon students in a theology seminary. Group one was told to think of professional problems and group two to think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students were told either that they were late, on time, or early. Then on their way they saw a ‘victim' who had fallen. The results indicated that the hurry variable exerted the most influence, but that the parable did make a difference. The students who were in a hurry as they had been told that they were late did not help the...
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