Prosocial Behavior | learn to give (2023)

Roberta L. Knickerbocker


prosocial behaviorrefers to "voluntary actions directed to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals" (Eisenberg and Mussen 1989, 3). This definition refers to the consequences of an agent's actions, not the motivations behind those actions. These behaviors include a wide range of activities: sharing, comforting, rescuing, and helping. Although prosocial behavior can be confused withaltruismThey are actually two different concepts. Prosocial behavior refers to a pattern of activity, while altruism is the motivation to help others out of pure consideration of their needs rather than how the action will benefit oneself. A familiar example of altruism is when an individual makes an anonymous donation to a person, group, or institution without any resulting recognition, political, or financial gain; here, giving is prosocial action and altruism is what motivates the giver to action.

historical roots

There is evidence that voluntary actions that benefit others are rooted in human (and animal) behavior. In the 1970s, biologist Edward O. Wilson started a new field, sociobiology, to study the social behaviors of animals and humans motivated by the biology of the organism (1975). Wilson used documented examples of "help" in many species of animals and insects. Since the publication of his groundbreaking textbook, many books and articles have been published claiming that helping and even rescuing behaviors are innate in primates, helper bees, ants, wild dogs, and other species. Of course, developmental psychologists and other social scientists point to the animal world as proof that prosocial behavior is a pre-programmed biological function of humanity, not just nurtured or learned actions.

(Video) Prosocial Behaviour

Examples of humans engaging in helping behaviors are found in early recorded history and prehistory. In North America, native peoples had very strong communal cultures, and group survival was based on helping and giving practices. In the North West Indian practice of potlatch, guests were (and still are) invited to the event and given gifts by the host based on the position of the host guests in the community. Among the Hopi, since AD ​​500, help and cooperation serve both the good of the family and the individual; competition and self-assertion are not an aspect of Hopi culture. Similar prosocial traditions or life attitudes are found throughout time and throughout the world.

Frequently, the motivation for organized prosocial behaviors of help and altruism are associated with religious practice. The world's three main monotheistic traditions - Islam, Judaism and Christianity - teach that helping the less fortunate is a religious obligation. The mandatory alms tax, or zakat, is one of the five pillars of Islam. There are also numerous examples of God commanding Jews to help the poor throughout the Old Testament. In addition, Jesus tells his followers the parable of the "Good Samaritan," instructing them to follow the example of the good neighbor who helped a poor battered man who was previously ignored by other passersby, including a priest. The emphasis on giving and helping in Judeo-Christian religions is the main reason why prosocial behavior is considered a social norm and moral imperative in Western culture.

Historically, the termprosocial behaviorit has only been used since the 1970s. Social scientists have begun using the term as an antonym forantisocial behavior. A body of research has evolved to illuminate the psychology of giving, helping, and sharing. The field of social psychology emerged as a discipline in the early 20th century and focused primarily on the most pressing concerns of the time: the rise of Nazism, the world wars, the Holocaust, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and racism. However, in the 1960s, the meaning of helping behaviors and their psychological motivations became interesting. It was recognized that understanding prosocial behavior is the key to harmonious interpersonal and group relationships.

The search for a key to harmony was timely for two reasons. First, during the Civil Rights movement, the nation witnessed blacks and whites subject themselves to corporal punishment and death in protest against racial segregation, despite the fact that many of these activists were not direct victims of what they were fighting for. . Second, there was a sharp increase in the number of cases of bystanders failing to help victims of heinous crimes, the most sensational of which was the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. Stabbed outside her Queens apartment, Genovese pleaded helps repeatedly, but received no help from the thirty-eight people who heard it. One of the witnesses called the police thirty minutes after the start of the assault and after Genovese's death. The Civil Rights movement and the murder of Genovese captured the nation's attention, raised the question of why people do or do not engage in prosocial behavior, and compelled social psychologists to study the psychological motivations behind helping and sharing. .

The subsequent body of research on prosocial behavior has been fruitful. For a detailed description of the various situational and dispositional factors that affect the decision to give, share, and help, see Daniel Batson's chapter on "Altruism and Prosocial Behavior" atManual of Social Psychology. For a different take on the factors that lead to prosocial behavior, and a look at a growing field of research on prosocial behavior in children, check out the work of Eisenberg and Mussen.The roots of prosocial behavior in children(1989). One noteworthy model is the five-step decision-making process of helping behavior developed by Darley and Latane in the 1970s.


The concept of prosocial behavior and its psychological foundations are extremely important to the advancement of research and practice in many fields, including education, social work, criminal justice, and law. For the purposes of this article, the concept is also central to understanding individual philanthropy and group philanthropy. It is this theoretical understanding that is necessary to draw practical implications for the health of the philanthropic sector.

Theoretical understanding

(Video) Altruism & Prosocial Behavior (Intro Psych Tutorial #205)

Philanthropy is very similar to prosocial behavior in its definition and in the fact that various motivations influence philanthropic action.PhilanthropyIt is a voluntary action for the common good, which includes voluntary donation, service and association. According to Aristotle, a thing can be defined by explaining the reason for its existence. Simply put, philanthropy exists because people of a certain disposition under a certain set of conditions are inclined to help other people, to engage in prosocial behavior. Since the psychology of prosocial behavior sheds light on what these circumstances are and how these inclinations manifest, it could arguably explain why philanthropy exists (see Chapter V, Bentley and Nissan 1996).

Furthermore, both prosocial behavior and philanthropic acts are driven by a mix of self-interest and altruistic motives. Self interest comes in varying degrees.Selfishness, seen as extreme self-interest, occurs when the motivator is self-importance or the need to improve one's image (eg, making a large monetary donation to the city's symphony to name the hall after oneself) .Mortgage benefitoccurs when one person helps another with the expectation that that person will one day do something to return the favor (as when a person does chores for their neighbor on vacation). Even people whose philanthropy is highly altruistic and recipient-oriented will derive some personal benefit from their own prosocial actions, although the benefit may simply be a sense of self-worth. When a person discovers that he derives personal benefits (eg, increased self-esteem) from engaging in philanthropic activities, the desire for that benefit becomes a powerful incentive to engage in the behavior again.

In a model that identifies five factors that encourage volunteerism, Clary and Snyder (1990) found that it is a combination of these incentives that motivates volunteers. One of the factors is the desire to be selfless, but the others are selfish. Volunteers are motivated by socially adjustable considerations (i.e., the desire to be part of a group), ego defense considerations (i.e., the desire to reduce guilt), and the desire to gain knowledge or skills for personal education. or professional. However, the strength of egoistic motives relative to the strength of altruistic motives varies from person to person and situation; For example, one person may be driven by a high level of altruism and a low level of egoism, while another reacts with a low level of altruism. and a high level of selfishness.

Finally, it should be remembered that prosocial behavior is about helping, which, in turn, involves understanding the recipient's needs and making a sincere effort to meet them. Therefore, prosocial behavior should refer only to activities that honor the interests of the recipient. And as long as the aspiring philanthropist considers these interests and tries to satisfy them, any act of giving or sharing can be considered philanthropic, even if motivated by a high degree of self-benefit.

Links with the philanthropic sector

practical implications

Knowledge of the dispositional and situational factors that motivate humans to engage in prosocial behavior is useful to nonprofit professionals who are developing and/or striving to improve their organizations' human and financial resource-building practices. For example, the decision-making model of helping behavior (Darley and Latane 1970) can be adapted to represent how a potential philanthropist determines whether to make a contribution to an organization. First, he must know that the agency exists. Next, he must believe that the agency needs volunteers or financial assistance. Third, she must decide if she is personally obligated to help. Fourth, she must determine what assistance she can provide. Ultimately, she decides how to act on her decision to contribute.

From this five-step model, a novice fundraiser or volunteer recruiter develops the blueprint for a comprehensive strategy for generating human and financial resources. The agency must first market itself to ensure that it is well known to potential followers. Then you need to make a compelling case to potential philanthropists, demonstrating your need for help and making them feel that they have a personal responsibility to help the cause. In addition, the agency must inform supporters what gifts it can accept and what kind of volunteer services are required. Finally, you should have well-publicized procedures for collecting donations and involving volunteers so philanthropists know how to act on their decision to contribute.

(Video) Providing Opportunites to Practice Pro-Social Skills

Related main ideas

  • Altruism
  • Selfishness
  • Donation
  • Help
  • Incentive
  • Motivation
  • Philanthropy
  • own interest
  • Service
  • exchange
  • volunteering

Important people related to the topic

Since the early 1970s, a number of scholars have studied prosocial behavior. Consultdaniel bastonchapter ofManual of Social Psychology(1998) for a complete list of these individuals. Several researchers, however, are particularly noteworthy. The team ofbibb latanomiJuan M Darley(1970) wroteThe indifferent bystander: why it doesn't helpin response to the shocking bystander inaction during the protracted murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City.Clary y Snyder(1990) conducted an important study on the factors that motivate individuals to volunteer, showing that volunteers are motivated by both altruistic and selfish considerations. developmental psychologistnancy eisenbergis a widely published researcher on the development of prosocial behavior in children; For a summary of studies related to this topic, seeThe roots of prosocial behavior in children(Eisenberg and Mussen 1989).

Bibliography and Internet resources

Aristotle. "Further Analysis, Book II". InIntroduction to Aristotle, edited by Richard McKeon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. ISBN: 0226560325.

Batson, Daniel C. "Altruism and Prosocial Behavior." InManual of Social Psychology, 4th ed., edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0195213769.

Bentley, Richard J. y Luana G. Nissan.The roots of giving and serving: a review of the literature studying how schoolchildren learn the philanthropic tradition. Indianapolis: Indiana University Center for Philanthropy, 1996.

Burlingame, Dwight F. "Altruism and Philanthropy: Questions of Definition."essays on philanthropy10. Indianapolis: Indiana University Center for Philanthropy, 1993.

(Video) Lecture 16: Prosocial Behavior || PSY 203: Social Psychology

Clary, E.G. and M.Snyder. "A functional analysis of volunteer motivations". Spring Research Forum Working Papers. Washington, D.C.: INDEPENDENT SECTOR, 1990.

Darley, John M. y Bibb Latane.The Indifferent Bystander: Why doesn't it help?Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970. ISBN: 0139386130.

Eisenberg, Nancy and Paul H. Mussen.The roots of prosocial behavior in children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN: 0-521-33771-2.

McChesney, R. D. "Charity and Philanthropy in Islam: Institutionalizing the Call to Do Good."essays on philanthropy14. Indianapolis: Indiana University Center for Philanthropy, 1995.

Morgan, Wesley G./University of Tennessee. "The murder of Kitty Genovese" [online]. Available: (December 12, 2001).

Pearson, Birger A. "Ancient Roots of Western Philanthropy: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian."essays on philanthropy. Indianapolis: Indiana University Center for Philanthropy, 1997.

WilsonEdward O.Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 25th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0674002350.

This article was developed by a student in the Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Indiana University Center for Philanthropy. is offered byLearning to Donateand the Indiana University Center for Philanthropy.

(Video) Pro-social Behavior by Dani K.


How is prosocial behavior learned? ›

Prosocial actions can be taught through explicit actions from a caring educator. Build empathy first, teach self-compassion, model caring acts, facilitate regular social interactions, foster social interdependence, and celebrate prosocial acts.

What is prosocial behavior group of answer choices? ›

Behaviors that can be described as prosocial include feeling empathy and concern for others. Prosocial behavior includes a wide range of actions such as helping, sharing, comforting, and cooperating.

What does prosocial behavior do? ›

Prosocial behavior was defined as behavior through which people benefit others (Eisenberg, 1982), including helping, cooperating, comforting, sharing, and donating (Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998; Greener and Crick, 1999).

How do we develop prosocial behavior? ›

How can parents, teachers and peers facilitate moral and prosocial tendencies? Sharing, cooperating and helping are some of the forms prosocial behaviour can take. Skills such as perspective taking, empathy, and self-regulation contribute to the development of prosocial behaviour.

What are the key elements of prosocial behavior? ›

With this in mind, prosocial behaviors can be thought to require three components: (1) the ability to take the perspective of another person and recognize that they are having a problem; (2) the ability to determine the cause of that problem; and (3) the motivation to help them overcome the problem.


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