The basics of prosocial behavior (2023)

Prosocial behaviors are those intended tohelp others. These actions are characterized by a concern for the rights, feelings, and well-being of others. Behaviors that might be described as prosocial includefeeling empathyand concern for others.

Prosocial behavior includes a wide range of actions such as helping, sharing, comforting and cooperating. The term itself originated during the 1970s and was introduced by social scientists as an antonym for the term antisocial behavior.

Benefits of prosocial behavior

In addition to the obvious good that prosocial actions bring to their recipients, these behaviors can have a variety of beneficial effects for the "helper":

  • Effects that improve mood: Research has also shown that people who engage in prosocial behavior are more likely to experience better mood.Also, people who help others tend to experience negative moods less often.
  • social support benefits: Having social support can be crucial to getting through tough times. Research has shown that social support can have a powerful impact on many aspects of well-being, including reducing the risk of loneliness, alcohol use and depression.
  • stress reducing effects: Research has also found that engaging in prosocial behaviors helps mitigate the negative emotional effects of stress.Helping others can be a great way to reduce the impact of stress in your life.


While prosocial behavior is often presented as a single, uniform dimension, some research suggests that there are different types. These types are differentiated based on why they occur and include:

  • proactive: These are pro-social actions that serve purposes for their own benefit.
  • ReagentThese are actions that are carried out in response to individual needs.
  • Altruistic: include actions intended to help others without any expectation of personal gain.

The researchers also suggest that these different types of prosocial behaviors are likely driven by different forces. For example, proactive prosocial actions have been found to be often motivated by goals related to status and popularity within a group. Altruistic prosocial behaviors, on the other hand, were more closely related to pleasing peers and achieving shared goals.

Other researchers have proposed that prosocial behaviors can be divided into helping, sharing, or comforting subtypes.

Prosocial behavior versus altruism

Altruismit is often seen as a form of prosocial behavior, but some experts suggest they represent different concepts. While prosocial behavior is seen as a type of helping behavior that ultimately brings some benefit to oneself, altruism is seen as a way of helping motivated only by concern for the individual in need.

Others argue, however, that reciprocity actually underlies many examples of altruism, or that people engage in seemingly altruistic behavior for selfish reasons. For example, a person may engage in altruism to gain recognition from others or to feel good about themselves.

because we help others

Prosocial behavior has long posed a challenge for social scientists. Researchers seek to understand why people engage in helping behaviors that are beneficial to others but costly to the individual performing the action.

In some cases, including acts ofheroism, people even risk their own lives to help other people, even those who are complete strangers. Why would people do something that benefits someone else but doesn't immediately benefit the person doing it?

Psychologists suggest that there are a number of reasons why people engage in prosocial behavior.

  • evolutionary influences:evolutionary psychologistsoften explain prosocial behaviors in terms of the principles of natural selection. While endangering your own safety makes it less likely that you will survive to pass on your own genes, kin selection suggests that helping members of your own genetic family makes it more likely that your relatives will survive and pass on genes to other generations. The researchers were able to produce some evidence that people are more likely to help those they are closely related to.
  • personal benefits: Prosocial behaviors are usually motivated by a number of factors, including selfishness (doing things to improve self-image), reciprocal benefits (doing something nice for someone so that they will one day return the favor), and more altruistic. reasons (performing actions purely out of empathy for another individual).
  • reciprocal behavior: Hereciprocity rulesuggests that when people do something useful for someone else, that person feels compelled to help in return. This norm developed, evolutionary psychologists suggest, because people who understood that helping others could lead to reciprocal kindness were more likely to survive and reproduce.
  • Socialization: In many cases, these behaviors are fostered during childhood and adolescence when adults encourage children to share, act kindly, and help others.

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the bystander effect

Situation characteristics can also have a powerful impact on whether or not people engage in prosocial actions. Hebystander effectis one of the most notable examples of how the situation can affect helping behaviors.

The bystander effect refers to the tendency for people to be less likely to help a person in distress when other people are also present.

For example, if you drop your purse and several items fall to the floor, the likelihood that someone will stop and help you is less if there are many other people present. This same sort of thing can happen in cases where someone is in serious danger, like a car accident. Witnesses may assume that since there are so many other people present, someone will have already called for help.

The 1964 murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese sparked much interest and research into the bystander effect. She was attacked late at night near her apartment, but no one contacted authorities during the attack.

Further investigation showed that many of the neighbors may not have had a clear view of what was going on, which explains why none tried to intervene or contact the police. However, crime still spurred much research on the bystander effect and prosocial behavior.

Other influences on prosocial behavior

Research on the bystander effect has resulted in a better understanding of why people help in some situations but not in others. Experts have discovered several different situational variables that contribute to (and sometimes interfere with) prosocial behaviors.

  • Fear of judgment or shame: Sometimes people are afraid to seek help only to find that their help was unwanted or unwarranted. To avoid being judged by other viewers, people just do nothing.
  • How do other people respond: people also tend to look to others for how to respond in such situations, especially if the event contains some level of ambiguity. If no one else seems to be reacting, people are less likely to respond as well.
  • The number of people present: The more people around, the less personal responsibility people feel in a situation. This is known as theDiffusion of responsibility.

how to act

The researchers also suggested that five important things need to happen for a person to act. An individual must:

  1. watch what is happening
  2. Interpret the event as an emergency.
  3. Experience feelings of responsibility.
  4. Do you think you have the skills to help?
  5. Make a conscious decision to offer help

Other factors that may help peopleovercome the bystander effectthey include having a personal relationship with the person in need, having skills and knowledge to provide assistance, and having empathy for those in need.

Prosocial behavior can be a force for good for individuals, communities and societies. While there are many factors that contribute to helping actions, there are things you can do to improve prosocial actions in yourself and others:

  • develop your skills: One of the reasons people don't help is because they feel they don't really have the skills to help. You can overcome this by doing things like learning the basics of first aid or CPR, so you'll feel better prepared if you find yourself in an emergency situation.
  • Model of pro-social actions: If you are a parent, set a good example for your children by letting them see that you are participating in helpful actions. Even if you don't have children, prosocial behaviors can help inspire others to take action. Volunteer in your community or find other ways to help others.
  • Praise acts of kindness: When you see kids (or even adults) doing kind things for others, let them know you appreciate it.

A Word from Verywell

Prosocial behavior can have several benefits. It ensures that people who need help get the assistance they need, but it can also help those who take pro-social actions feel better about themselves. While there are roadblocks that sometimes impede such actions, research suggests that acts of kindness and other prosocial behavior are contagious.

(Video) Prosocial Behaviour

Seeing other people do good things encourages and inspires others to take action to help others.

How to become a better person

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  1. Raposa EB, Leis HB, Ansell EB.Prosocial behavior mitigates the negative effects of stress in everyday life.Clin Psychology Sci. 2016;4(4):691-698. doi:10.1177/2167702615611073

  2. American Psychological Association.Manage Stress: Strengthen Your Support Network.

  3. Dunfield KA.A split construct: Prosocial behavior as helping, sharing, and comforting subtypes.frontal psychology. 2014;5:958. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00958

  4. Seda JB, Casa BR.The evolution of altruistic social preferences in human groups.Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016;371(1687):20150097. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0097

  5. Waugh W, Brownell C, Pollock B.Early socialization of prosocial behavior: Parental encouragement patterns for young children to help with daily household chores.child behavior development. 2015;39:1-10. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2014.12.010

  6. Tsvetkova M, Macy MW.The social contagion of generosity.another. 2014;9(2):e87275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087275

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The basics of prosocial behavior (1)

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What are the 6 types of prosocial behavior? ›

This instrument presents prosocial behavior in six types: altruistic, compliant, emotional, public, anonymous, and dire.

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.

How do you explain prosocial behavior? ›

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).

What are 3 benefits of prosocial behaviors? ›

Over time, prosocial behavior is associated with greater psychological well-being, better social relationships, and better physical health, including greater longevity.

What are two examples of pro social Behaviour? ›

Prosocial behaviours refer to voluntary actions specifically intended to benefit or improve the well-being of another individual or group of individuals. Examples of such behaviours include helping, sharing, consoling, comforting, cooperating, and protecting someone from any potential harm.

What are the factors affecting prosocial behavior? ›

Personal benefits: Prosocial behaviors are often seen as being compelled by a number of factors including egoistic reasons (doing things to improve one's self-image), reciprocal benefits (doing something nice for someone so that they may one day return the favor), and more altruistic reasons (performing actions purely ...

What causes prosocial behavior? ›

The purest forms of prosocial behavior are motivated by altruism, an unselfish interest in helping another person. According to Santrock, the circumstances most likely to evoke altruism are empathy for an individual in need, or a close relationship between the benefactor and the recipient.

How do you promote prosocial behavior? ›

30 Ways to Promote Prosocial Behavior
  1. Provide feedback on progress towards reaching specific prosocial goals.
  2. Practice manners prior to going into the community.
  3. Explain rules and expectations of a new situation and give a reminder before that event.
  4. Use social stories to prepare individuals for new situations.

What are activities for prosocial behavior? ›

Parents, caregivers, and teachers can help promote prosocial behaviors in children through modeling and other activities that focus on social and emotional health. These include reading together, doing joint chores, thinking out loud, role-playing with puppets, and using on-the-spot praise and encouragement.

What are some examples of prosocial behavior in school? ›

Prosocial behavior is acting in a positive direction toward someone else. A kind word, sharing with a friend, helping others, or giving to others; these are all prosocial.

What are 3 prosocial behaviors you will do to make our classroom a safe and positive place to be? ›

Here are three prosocial behaviors you can use today in your classroom: gratitude, kindness, and empathy.

What are pro social skills for adults? ›

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.


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