This week, I leaned something particularly intriguing called…
Prosocial behavior, which is defined as action intended to benefit another.

My discovery of this intriguing idea occurred while studying for…
PGS350, Social Psych!

I found this idea intriguing because…
There are so many factors that influence our decisions to help one another.  Before I explain those, though, take a look at this video.

What influences our decision of whether or not to help someone in need?  In general, people will help someone else to gain genetic and material benefit, to win social status and approval, to manage self-image (that is, to make them feel better about themselves as people), to manage moods and emotions, and last but HOPEFULLY not least, to benefit another.  But how could this happen?  How could this CHILD of all things, be in such need of assistance and yet NOBODY takes it upon themselves to help!?  Well to really understand this, we must understand the 5-stage model of helping explained to me by Professor Neuberg.  Just because someone may WANT to help, he explained, does not mean they actually will.  A passerby of an incident such as what you just witnessed must take five cognitive steps in order to determine whether they will follow through with helping or not: notice, interpret as a problem, assume responsibility, decide what to do, and then help.  First and foremost, a person must notice that a “need situation” potentially exists.  Second, they must interpret the situation to determine whether or not aid is required.  So according to this model so far, those passers-by must have noticed the bloody smashed body lying on the concrete (something you can tell many of them are trying to act like they didn’t do), as well as acknowledge that this young girl is in need of help, which she obviously is.  The third step is where a lot of people are lost: they must then assume responsibility.  Here is where we were introduced to a phenomena titled diffusion of responsibility.  The most universally recognized instance of this phenomena was in the case of Kitty Genovese, the woman who, in 1964, was slaughtered on the street next to her apartment building as dozens of people watched from the comfort of their own apartments.  Not one of those people called the police.  Not one of those people did a thing to help.  But why?  Are they cold-hearted sadistic individuals?  Or, did they think one of the other 25 people they saw witnessing this murder would call the police, and therefore they didn’t need to.  Here is diffusion of responsibility: the more bystanders that are present during something such as this, the most likely it is that no single person will help.  Perhaps this occurred in the video above.  Maybe as they were walking by this girl, the people thought to themselves, “Someone surely must have already seen this, I’m sure help is on the way!”  But then again, maybe not.  Had one of those 18 individuals assumed responsibility, they would then decide what to do–probably call the Chinese equivalent of 9-1-1?  And then they would actually DO it.

I would label this “intriguing idea” as a theory, concept, method, or other…
I would label this “intriguing idea” as a method.  Prosocial behavior is a method through which humans maintain their status as social beings.  Dr. Neuberg said it best, “If we weren’t prosocial, we could not be social.”

I can think of at least three ways I can apply this intriguing idea…
1.  Most importantly, knowing the cognitive processes that occur to individuals while deciding whether or not to help will assist me if I am ever in a similar situation.  I can now skip from “notice, interpret, assume…” straight to HELP!  Additionally, never again will I take part in the diffusion of responsibility.  I learned the Kitty Genovese case many, many years ago, and upon initially learning about this completely ridiculous situation, I promised myself I would never be one of those people.  Since then, whenever I see a car accident, I call the police.  Whenever I see something on fire, I call 9-1-1.  These principles have ALREADY made a difference in my life before I even learned them.
2.  Now I can evaluate others’ helping to see whether it was done altruistically (solely to benefit another) or through selfish motivations of the helper.  This is somewhat less important–I’m sure that little girl would not have been too concerned with whether the person helping her was doing it for the right reasons or not.  But still.
3.  In the section on prosocial behavior, we also learned about how to use such behavior to impact moods and emotions.  For instance, giving while your in a bad mood can play a role in uplifting that mood.  Here’s another one I’ve already applied: after a bad exam, I attended Burger King in the MU.  The woman at the register asked, “Would you like to donate a dollar to support our troops?” We get these questions all the time, and usually my automated response is “No, that’s okay.”  But on this particular day, I said yes.  I donated my dollar and, low and behold, it helped me feel a little better about myself as an individual.  People WANT to see themselves as competent, generous, and caring, hence what motivates prosocial behavior in the first place!

This intriguing idea is surprisingly similar to something I learned in another class, which was…
My Philosophy class is titled “Intro to Ethics.” More than anything, we evaluate different philosophers and their ideas about the right way to live life.  For example, Lao Tzu places much importance on virtue, and states “The man of the highest virtue does not keep to virtue and that is why he has virtue.”  Through this statement, Tzu implies that to TRULY have virtue, one must do so without even trying.  Confucius also talks a lot about virtue and its importance in living a truly satisfying life.  While he disagrees with Tzu’s idea that if you try to have virtue, all is already lost, Confucius explains the value of being right and good, even for the wrong reasons.  Helping people is highly important in our interaction as social animals, even if we do it through our own selfish motivations.  I found this to be an extreme commonality between Social Psychology and Ethics.

If this idea were a song, it would be…
Ahhh, hippie music. MY FAVORITE!

If this idea were a food, it would be…
A big bowl of trail mix at a party. Put there to share. To help satisfy the hunger of all its needy snackers TOGETHER!

If someone wanted to learn more about this idea, they could read any of the following books or articles…
Learn about Kitty Genovese, Diffusion of Responsibility

Kenrick, Douglas, Steven Neuberg, and Robert Cialdini. Social Psychology Goals in Interaction. 5th. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. 117. Print.

 

Neuberg, Steven . “Prosocial Behavior.” 2011. Print.

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