Prosocial (or altruistic) behaviors are actions that provide a benefit to others while not having any obvious benefits to oneself.
Texas Tower some people took care of ill people, some attempted to kill Whitman, some did nothing.
Kitty Genovese was killed in the sight of witnesses, because no one was willing to help.

Diffusion of Responsibility

Popular opinion suggests that people generally fail to help others because they are apathetic.
Diffusion of responsibility is the concept that each member of a collection of people at the scene of an emergency will feel that he or she does not have the responsibility to intervene.
You would expect members of a large group to be less likely to help in an emergency.
Bystander effect is when people are aware of an emergency, but fail to help.
Increasing the number of people at the scene of an emergency tends to increase the delay time in receiving aid from any particular individual.
Darley and Latane tested the diffusion of responsibility hypothesis by varying the amount of time between onset of the experiment and the beginning of the bogus emergency.
When the affect of subjects exposed to the fake seizure was assessed, they seemed to feel upset.
Six levels of helpfulness - direct intervention with a plan for helping, general help, indirect help or reporting the incident, conditional help, no help or intervention, and refusal to help along with a rationalization.

Darley and Latane (1970) and the Good Samaritan Study

Why did seminary students fail to notice something unusual on their way to a talk on the Good Samaritan?
The seminary students varied in the amount of help that they offered to an (apparently) unconscious man as a function of the amount of time that they had to spare.
They were on their way to talk about the good Samaritan and in such a rush, they simply stepped over the victim and rushed along.


Perceiving that an emergency exists.
To test for whether or not people tend to notice emergence situations, it would be a good idea to control for the affectability of the subject's attention.
Correct interpretation of the situation - that it is an emergency.
Time pressures may influence this.
Does the person assume responsibility.
Deciding what to do in the situation.
Doing it.

Pluralistic Ignorance

People often fail to help because they do not recognize that the situation is an emergency and they would be embarrassed to offer help if they were wrong about the situation being an emergency.
They may hold back in an ambiguous situation because they are waiting for more information.
In a situation with several non-responding bystanders, where it is unclear whether or not an emergency is taking place, you would expect a high self-monitor to be less likely to offer help than the average.
Social comparison is relevant to emergency situations when there are several people present at the scene of the emergency.
Helping responses are inhibited in United States culture because we are taught to appear calm in emergencies.
Pluralistic ignorance is the concept that bystanders interpret others' apparent calmness as unconcern.
Research shows that if you are in an emergency, you are most likely to be helped if someone verbalizes the fact that you need help.
If you are completing an experimental task in a room, and smoke starts coming through the door, you are most likely to report it if you are alone (75%).
If you are with three person 62% did nothing.
People are more likely to offer help to some one in a quarrel if the participants seem to be strangers.
Shotland and Straud found that three times as many interventions took place when a fight was between strangers than married couple

Schwartz and Gottlieb (1980) Study and Perceived Responsibility of the Bystander

A person needs:
1. perceive an emergency,
2. to assume that he is responsible for offering aid to offer help,
3. know how to help the victim.
When an emergency happens in a situation where there is a recognized leader people assume that the leader will take responsibility.
Schartz found that helping behavior was less likely to occur when there were two bystanders than one.
In general , the more people at the scene of an emergency, the less responsibility individuals feel for intervening.
A bystander with the capability to help in an emergency is likely to help even in the presence of other strangers, such as a nurse.
Most people will help when alone.

Presence of Others

Deciding whether or not to help a victim in an emergency is influenced by potential costs of helping.
The presence of strangers , the fear of making a fool of oneself, and when the others are not helping all inhibit helping behavior.
Helping behavior encouraged by the consumption of alcohol and the presence of friends.
Cognitive myopia is the condition where people become more likely to offer help due to alcoholic consumption.
A person who had just had a couple of beers would be more likely to help you if you fall.

"Altruistic Personality"

Altruistic personality include dispositional factors such as higher self rating of empathy, and belief in a just world, social responsibility, and internal locus of control.
I can help the world and if I do, I will be rewarded eventually - showing that altruism may not be entirely without reward on the part of the helper.

Altruistic Role Models

Role models, such as observing other people giving money to someone who is perceived to be in need makes one more likely to contribute, as the others are like role models - providing cues for helpful behavior.
Animals may also be role models, such as Lassie.

Positive Emotional States

Positive mood increased helping behavior if the behavior does not threaten to destroy the good mood, if it is not costly.
If you need help which may prove embarrassing to whoever helps you, you are more likely to be helped by someone in a negative mood.
People in a positive mood may be less likely to accede to requests for help because they feel more power, including the ability to say no.
Most of the time, people in a positive mood pay more attention to the consequences of helping others.

Negative Emotional States

  1. Negative state relief model shows that people in a negative mood may help others to make themselves feel better.
  2. Helping behavior is usually a function of empathy.
  3. Empathy among people in a negative mood is stimulated by focusing upon the misfortunes of the victim.
  4. People in a negative mood are more likely to help others if they blame themselves for their own negative affect.

Victim Blaming

In deciding whether or not to aid someone, victim characteristics are used by potential helpers to generate impressions of victim responsibility.
Ex., most people pass by a prostrate person who appears drunk.
Weiner's model - person who is deemed responsible for their troubles tend to generate feeling of disgust.
Victim blaming is most often performed by people who use sensitizing defenses.
Victim blaming is lessened when the victim is someone who is similar to the person doing the blaming.
A person who does not blame the victim is least likely to remember details of a newspaper account of a mugging of a college student.
Repression and sensitization are defenses that deal with thoughts about a threatening event which may or may not happen to you - demonstrated by using perceptions of rape descriptions.
Repression is when one avoids or denies the threat.
Sensitization is when one thinks, worries, and intellectualizes about the threat.
The sensitization defense against threats is characterized by worrying and intellectualizing about the threat.

Shyness and Competency

Shy people are reluctant to seek help from a member of the opposite sex.
One likely influence on whether or not a person in an emergency will ask for help is the victim's demographic characteristics.
Women, the elderly, and persons high in socioeconomic status are most likely to ask for help.
One reason that people do not ask for help is they do not wish to appear incompetent.
Perceptions about potential helpers' reaction to the request is an immediate influence on whether or not individuals will ask for help.
Asking for help is associated with lowered self-esteem ( a situational variable).
Lowered self-esteem in helping situations generally leads to victim feelings of dislike for the helper; increased motivation for self-help later.


Sibling help is considered more threatening if the sibling is younger.
Help is most likely to be provided by a sibling if the sibling is female,
The most preferred helper is an older sister.
Most threatening was younger brothers.

Attribution of Motive

A basic dimension also which many explanations of helping behavior differ is the assumption of selfishness-selflessness.
Those who helped attributed their actions to positive motives, while those who observed were equally likely to attribute such behavior to positive or negative motives.
Empathy is a vicarious emotional reaction that mirrors that of another person.
Empathy-altruism suggests that prosocial behavior is motivated solely by the desire to help others - potential helper feels some of the emotion of the victim and wants to help.
To create empathy emphasize the similarities between the potential helper and the victim.
When empathy was low and escape was easy, subjects tend to leave rather than engage in prosocial behavior.
When empathy was high, subjects volunteered to take the victim’s place.

"Negative State Relief"

Egoistic theory is based on the negative state relief model - the desire to make oneself feel better trough helping others.
Egoistic says that empathy hypothesis is not sufficient to explain helping behavior because feelings of empathy are confounded by feelings of sadness.
Caildini explains that when empathy occurs, sadness follows.
Helping increases when sadness increases, but not when empathy increase.
Help is given only if the bystander experiences negative emotion, if there is no other way to eliminate such feelings, and if helping will eliminate them.

"Empathic Joy" -  Smith  (1989) and "Helper’s High"

Differs from the negative relief in the relative necessity of feedback from helping behavior.
Empathy leads to helping, but only if the helper can learn about the results of his or her helpfulness.
Helping behavior occurs because people enjoy seeing that another's needs have been met.
Empathy and empathic joy differ in assumptions about selfishness in helping behavior.
Helper's high is the positive emotions experienced by a helper.


Genetic determinism model is based on the increasing of reproductive success through helping and does not rely upon emotional motivation.
Relatedness of victim and helper because of similar genes.
Maximization of inclusive fitness is the unconscious motivation to pass on as many of one's genes to the next generation as possible.
It is difficult to test mate selection based on genetic similarity.
Argument against is that we help others like ourselves, but some similarities are not genetically determined.
Sociobiologists engage in storytelling in which past behavior is necessarily imagined on the basis of present behavior - and the resulting accounts of how primitive humans might have behaved is highly influenced by current ideology and current cultural characteristics.