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At ¬rst she hid the group behind a false wall in the laundry area. Then she hid
characteristics relate to
them in a heating duct in Major Rugemer™s apartment. When Major Rugemer moved
to a large villa with servant™s quarters in the cellar and a bunker beneath the house,
10. What situational and
Irene took her charges and hid them in the cellar of Major Rugemer™s villa.
personality variables
One day Irene was at the marketplace in town when the Gestapo herded
played a role in the
everyone into the town center. There a Polish family was hanged along with the
decision to help Jews in
Jewish family they were hiding. Usually when Irene returned home, she locked the
Nazi-occupied Europe?
door and left the key turned in the lock so nobody could come in unexpectedly.
11. What factors contribute
Irene was so shaken by what she had witnessed that she locked the door, but
to a person™s developing
pulled the key out of the lock. Two members of the Jewish family, Fanka Silberman
an altruistic personality?
and Ida Bauer, came out of the cellar to help Irene with her chores. The three
12. What is the
were in the kitchen when Major Rugemer came home unexpectedly and found
interactionist view of
altruism? them. Irene had been caught and the Jews were in danger. Major Rugemer,
visibly angry, retreated to his study. Irene followed him and made a plea for her
13. How does long-term
Jewish friends. Major Rugemer agreed to let the Jews stay, but at a cost. Irene
helping relate to models
of emergency helping? would have to become his mistress.
Eventually, Ternopol was liberated by the advancing Russian army. Irene and
14. What factors in¬‚uence
her charges ¬‚ed into the woods to await liberation. Irene Opdyke™s courageous
a person™s likelihood of
seeking and receiving acts were directly responsible for saving Fanka Silberman, Henry Weinbaum,
help? Moses Steiner, Marian Wilner, Joseph Weiss, Alex Rosen, David Rosen, Lazar
Haller, Clara Bauer, Thomas Bauer, Abram Klinger, Miriam Morris, Hermann
15. What reactions do
people show to Morris, Herschel Morris, and Pola Morris. Without Irene™s help they all surely
receiving help? would have ended up in labor and/or death camps. After the war Irene™s story
was veri¬ed and she was designated a righteous rescuer by the state of Israel.
What motivated Irene Opdyke? Why did she risk her relatively secure
position with Major Rugemer for people she had only recently befriended?
And, what about Major Rugemer™s decision to allow Irene to continue hiding
the Jews at his villa? Was his action altruistic, or did he have another reason for
his behavior? Why do we care about the fate of other people? Indeed, do we
care at all? These are fundamental questions about human nature. Theologians,
philosophers, evolutionary biologists, and novelists all have suggested answers.
Social psychologists have suggested answers, too, contributing their empirical
¬ndings to the discussion.
Irene Opdyke™s behavior was clearly out of the ordinary. Very few Poles were
willing to risk their lives to save Jews. A notable aspect of Irene™s behavior was that
she expected nothing in return, neither material nor psychological rewards. In fact,
rescuers such as Irene Opdyke typically shy away from the hero status awarded
them. In her mind, she did what had to be done”end of story. Regardless, her
actions were purely altruistic. So Irene was an unusual human being”but not
unique. Others, albeit few, have performed equally sel¬‚ess acts.
In this chapter we consider why people help others, when they help, and what
kinds of people help. We ask, what lies behind behavior such as Irene Opdyke™s?
Does it spring from compassion for her fellow human beings? Does it come from
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 403

a need to be able to sleep at night, to live with ourselves? Or is there some other
motivation? What circumstances led Opdyke to offer the help she did, and what
process did she go through to arrive at this decision? Or was her decision more
a function of her character, her personal traits? Was she perhaps an example of
an altruistic personality? And what about the people Irene Opdyke saved? How
did receiving her help affect them? What factors determined how they responded
to that help? These are some of the questions addressed in this chapter.

Why Do People Help?
There are two types of motives for behaviors such as Irene Opdykeʼs. Sometimes we
help because we want to relieve a personʼs suffering. Behavior motivated by the desire
to relieve a victimʼs suffering is called altruism. Other times we help because we hope altruism Helping behavior
motivated purely by the desire
to gain something from it for ourselves. We may give to a charity to get a tax deduc-
to relieve a victim™s suffering
tion, for example, or we may give because we think it makes us look good. Often, we
and not by the anticipation of
experience personal satisfaction and increased self-esteem after helping. When we give
help with an eye on the reward we will get, our behavior is not really altruistic. It falls
into the category of behaviors known simply as helping behavior.
Notice that the distinction between altruism and helping behavior lies in the moti-
vation for performing the behavior, not the outcome. A person who is motivated purely
by the need to relieve the suffering of the victim may receive a reward for his or her
actions. However, he or she didnʼt perform the actions with the expectation of receiv-
ing that reward. This marks the behavior as altruistic.
The distinction between altruism and helping behavior may seem arti¬cial because
the outcome in both cases is that someone in need receives help. Does it matter what
motivates the behavior? Yes, it does. The quality of the help given may vary according
to the motivation behind the behavior. For example, there were others besides Irene
Opdyke who helped rescue Jews, but some of them were paid for their efforts. The
Jews who paid their helpers were not necessarily treated very well. In fact, Christians
in Nazi-occupied Europe who helped hide Jews for pay did not extend the same level
of care as those who were not paid. Jews hidden by “paid helpers” were more likely
to be mistreated, abused, and turned in than were those hidden by the more altruistic
“rescuers” (Tec, 1986).
The question posed by social psychologists about all of these acts is, What motivates
people to help? Is there really such a thing as altruism, or are people always hoping for
some personal reward when they help others? Researchers have proposed a number of
hypotheses to answer this question.

Empathy: Helping in Order to Relieve Another™s Suffering
Social psychologist C. Daniel Batson (1987, 1990a, 1990b) suggested that we may
help others because we truly care about them and their suffering. This caring occurs
because humans have strong feelings of empathy”compassionate understanding of how
the person in need feels. Feelings of empathy encompass sympathy, pity, and sorrow
(Eisenberg & Miller, 1987).
What cognitive and/or emotional experience underlies empathy? Batson, Early,
and Salvarani (1997) suggested that perspective taking is at the heart of helping acts.
According to Batson and colleagues, there are two perspectives that are relevant to
Social Psychology

helping situations: imagine other and imagine self. An imagine-other perspective oper-
ates when you think about how the person in need of help perceives the helping situ-
ation and the feelings that are aroused in that situation. An imagine-self perspective
operates when you imagine how you would think and feel if you were in the victimʼs
situation. Batson and colleagues predicted that the perspective taken affects the arousal
of empathy or personal distress.
Batson and colleagues (1997) conducted an experiment in which participants were
told to adopt one of three perspectives while listening to a story about a person in need
(Katie). In the objective-perspective condition, participants were instructed to be as objec-
tive as possible and not to imagine what the person had been through. In the imagine-other
condition, participants were instructed to try to imagine how the person in need felt about
what had happened. In the imagine-self condition, participants were told to imagine how
they themselves would feel in the situation. Batson and colleagues measured the extent
to which the manipulation produced feelings of empathy or personal distress.
Batson and colleagues (1997) found that participants in both imagine conditions
felt more empathy for Katie than did those in the objective condition. Furthermore,
they found that participants in the imagine-other condition felt more empathy than did
those in the imagine-self condition. Participants in the imagine-self condition were more
likely to experience personal distress than empathy. Thus, two emotional experiences
were produced depending on which perspective a person took.
How does empathy relate to altruism? Although attempts to answer this question have
been somewhat controversial, it appears that empathy, once aroused, increases the like-
lihood of an altruistic act. This is exactly what is predicted from Batson and colleaguesʼ
empathy“altruism (1997) empathy-altruism hypothesis. Psychologists, however, have never been com-
hypothesis An explanation fortable with the idea that people may do sel¬‚ess acts. The idea of a truly altruistic act
suggesting that the arousal runs contrary to the behaviorist tradition in psychology. According to this view, behavior
of empathy leads to
is under control of overt reinforcers and punishers. Behavior develops and is maintained
altruistic acts.
if it is reinforced. Thus, the very idea of a sel¬‚ess, nonrewarded act seems farfetched.

Empathy and Egoism: Two Paths to Helping
When we see or hear about someone in need, we often experience personal distress.
Now, distress is an unpleasant emotion, and we try to avoid it. After all, most of us
do not like to see others suffer. Therefore, we may give help not out of feelings of
empathy for victims but in order to relieve our own personal distress. This motive
for helping is called egoism. For example, if you saw the suffering after Hurricane
Katrina and thought, “If I donʼt do something, Iʼll feel terrible all day,” you would
be focused on your own distress rather than on the distress of the victims. Generally,
egoistic motives are more self-centered and sel¬sh than empathic motives (Batson,
Fultz, & Schoenrade, 1987). Thus, there are different paths to helping, one involving
empathy and the other personal distress. These two competing explanations of helping
are shown in Figure 11.1.
How can we know which of these two paths better explains helping behavior? Note
that when the motivation is to reduce personal distress, helping is only one solution.
Another is to remove ourselves from the situation. But when the motivation is altruistic,
only one solution is effective: helping the victim. The egoist, motivated by reducing
personal distress, is more likely to respond to someone in need by escaping the situa-
tion if possible. The altruist, motivated by empathy for the victim, is not.
Batson designed some experiments to test the relative merits of the personal distress
versus the empathy-altruism explanations by varying the ease with which subjects
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 405

Figure 11.1 Helping as
could avoid contact with the person in need. In one study, subjects watched someone a function of ease of escape
(apparently) experiencing pain in response to a series of electric shocks (Batson, 1990a). and empathy. Participants
Some subjects were told that they would see more of the shock series”the dif¬cult- high in empathy are likely to
escape condition. Others were told that they would see no more of the shock series, help a person in need, even
if escape is easy. Participants
although the victim would still get shocked”the easy-escape condition.
low in empathy help only if
The personal distress reduction explanation predicts that everyone will behave the
escape is dif¬cult.
same in this situation. When escape is easy, everyone will avoid helping”we all want to
relieve our feelings of personal distress. When escape is dif¬cult, everyone will help” From. Batson, Fultz, and Schoenrade (1987).

again, we all want to relieve our feelings of personal distress. The empathy-altruism
explanation, on the other hand, predicts that people will behave differently, depending
on their motivation. This will be particularly apparent when it is easy to escape. Under
these conditions, those motivated by egoistic concerns will escape. Those motivated
by empathy will help even though they easily could have escaped.
Batsonʼs research con¬rmed the empathy hypothesis, which predicts that empathic
feelings matter very much. Some people chose to help even when escape was easy,
indicating that it was their caring about the victim, not their own discomfort, that drove
their behavior (Figure 11.2). In a recent replication of Batsonʼs original experiment
employing all female participants the same pattern of results was found (Bierhoff &
Rohmann, 2004). When escape was easy empathic individuals were more likely to help
than egoistic individuals. No such difference emerged for the dif¬cult escape condition.
Other research shows that it is the helperʼs empathic feelings for the person in need that
are the prime motivators for helping (Dovidio, Allen, & Schroeder, 1990).
In a different test of the empathy-altruism hypothesis, Batson and Weeks (1996)
reasoned that if a person aroused to empathy tries to help a person in distress and fails,
there should be a substantial change in the helperʼs state of mind to a negative mood.
They reasoned further that less negative mood change would result when little or no
empathy was aroused. The results of their experiment con¬rmed this. Participants in
the high-empathy condition experienced greater negative mood shifts after failed help
than participants in the low-empathy condition.
Interestingly, empathy does not always lead to an increase in altruism. Batson and
colleagues (1999) demonstrated that both egoism and empathy can lead to reduced
helping or, what they called a “threat to the common good.” Batson and colleagues
gave participants the opportunity to divide resources among a group or keep them for
themselves (egoism). In one group-allocation condition, one of the group members
aroused the empathy of the participants. In a second group-allocation condition, there
was no group member who aroused empathy. In both group conditions, participants
could choose to allocate resources to the group as a whole or to an individual member
of the group. Batson and colleagues found that when a participantʼs allocation scheme
Social Psychology

Ease of Escape
Easy Hard



Percentage Helping


Figure 11.2. The
relationship between the
emotion experienced, ease
Egoism Empathy
of escape and helping.
Dominant Emotion Reported
Based on data from Batson, et al. (1988)

was private, he or she allocated fewer resources to the group than the self. This was
true regardless of whether the empathy-arousing victim was present. Conversely, when
allocation strategies were public, participants allocated fewer resources to the group as
a whole only when the empathy-arousing victim was present. The research from Batson
and colleagues suggests that both egoism and empathy can threaten the common good.
However, potential evaluation by others (the public condition) strongly inhibits those
motivated by egoism but not empathy.
Empathy appears to be a powerful emotion that can lead to helping even when the
altruistic individual has been treated badly by another. In an imaginative experiment
by Batson and Ahmad (2001), female participants took part in a game involving an
exchange of raf¬‚e tickets. The participant was given three tickets worth +5, +5 and “5.
The participant was told that her partner in the game (there was no partner; the partnerʼs
behavior was determined by the experimenter) had the same tickets (+5, +5, and “5).
Batson and Ahmad aroused high empathy for the partner for some participants and
low empathy for others. On the ¬rst exchange the “partner” gave the participant the
“5 raf¬‚e ticket, meaning that the partner was in effect trying to keep as many tickets
as possible. The measure of altruism was the number of participants who would give
a +5 ticket to the partner. The empathy-altruism hypothesis predicts that participants
experiencing high empathy for the partner should be willing to give the partner posi-
tive raf¬‚e tickets, despite the defection by the partner. The results were consistent with
this prediction: 45% of the high-empathy participants gave the defecting partner the
+5 ticket, whereas only 10% of the low-empathy participants gave the +5 card.


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