Identify some of the factors that make people help others. Who helps the most, and in what cases (whom) are they especially likely to help? Illustrate your answer with examples. Giedrius Statkus
Department of Psychology, Keynes College, CT2 7NP
Identify some of the factors that make people help others. Who helps the most, and in what cases (whom) are they especially likely to help? Illustrate your answer with examples. Many different factors have been shown to influence people’s willingness to help others. The motive behind certain type of help can be certain rewards for helping however other types of help do not always appear to have a clear motive. This was noted by Comte (1875 as cited in Batson & Shaw 1991, Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) who studied the question of helping others, philosophically and suggests that there are two key types of help displayed by people. He describes these as either Egoistic Helping (EH) or Altruistic Helping (AH). The former refers to the type of help where an individual is clearly aware of a reward for performing the help, such as can be seen in some volunteers workers, whose clear reward is experience and recommendations. The latter however refers to situations where an individual’s willingness to help is unaided by any conscious reward. AH behaviour can be seen in such examples as helping a broken down stranger fix a car tyre on a road (Pomzal & Clore, 1973 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011). The factors influencing the latter type of help are the ones mainly considered throughout this essay. However these factors have a varied effect on different people, this variation can be based on gender, age and other individual differences. It has been suggested that one major factor influencing the willingness of people to perform AH is empathy (Batson, Batson, Slingsby, Harrell, Peekna & Todd, 1991). The theory suggests that individuals witnessing someone in need of help, as they are displaying distress or pain, will experience similar feelings themselves. This is supported by many studies (Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) however of key importance are studies conducted via observing the process of empathy in the brain using Functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) (Singer, Seymour, O’Doherty, Kaube, Dolan & Firth, 2004). In their study participants were subjected to electric shocks while undergoing an fMRI scan, after that they had to watch as their spouses undergo the electric shocks. The scans showed that the brain’s responses were similar, for both conditions, and that witnessing the shocks and receiving them affected the same areas of the brain. Other studies have also found empathy between emotional states such as happiness or sadness and other situations (Singer, Seymour, O’Doherty, Kaube, Dolan & Firth, 2004). Therefore this confirms Batson’s et al. (1991) suggestion that if an individual is witnessing someone in distress, he also experiences some distress and therefore helping that person would be the fastest way to relieve it. There are many other factors playing roles in influencing willingness to help, however many of them may also be explained via empathy. As these other factors may increase or decrease empathy which could result in increased willingness to help. The fact that reward in AH is not obvious is not to say that it does not exist. As mentioned previously the relieving of distress may be one form of reward experienced through AH. Other rewards to be considered may be the need for praise or some sort of award (Batson, et al. 1988 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011). Another motivation may be fear of punishment, often in the form of social disproval, the fear of people knowing you could of helped, but did not. This can aid understanding of AH on an evolutionary and survival basis. As in some cases AH may mean less resources or putting oneself in danger (Dawkins 1988 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) it can be said...
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