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Finally, empathy is an emotion that is not directed equally to all individuals in
need. Empathy has been found to be a stronger predictor of helping when an in-group
member needs help than if an out-group member needs help (Sturmer, Snyder, &
Omoto, 2005).
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 407


Challenging the Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
Everett Sanderson was standing on a subway platform one day when a woman fell onto
the tracks. Sanderson leapt down onto the tracks and pulled the woman to safety just
moments before a train rushed into the station. When asked why he went to a strangerʼs
aid, he replied that he would not have been able to live with himself had he not helped.
Perhaps people help because not helping would violate their view of themselves as
moral and altruistic and would make them feel guilty. Or, perhaps they are concerned
with what others may think if they do not help, and they would experience shame. The
notion that people may help because of the shame and guilt they will feel if they do not
empathy“punishment
help”known as the empathy-punishment hypothesis”presents a challenge to the
hypothesis A hypothesis
empathy-altruism hypothesis.
suggesting that helping occurs
Batson accepted the challenge of this hypothesis. He thought that people who help
because individuals are
to avoid guilt or shame should help less when provided with a good justi¬cation for not motivated to avoid the guilt
helping. After all, if you can plausibly justify not helping to other people (avoid shame) or shame brought about by
and to yourself (avoid guilt), then no punishment occurs. If, however, your motive for failure to help.
helping is purely altruistic, then reduction of the victimʼs distress is the issue, not good
rationalizations for not helping.
Batson and his colleagues (1988) designed research to pit the empathy-altruism
hypothesis against the empathy-punishment explanation. There were two variables in this
experiment: the subjectʼs level of empathy for the victim (high or low) and the strength
of the justi¬cation for not helping (strong or weak). Subjects listened to a simulated news
interview in which a college senior (Katie) was interviewed about her parentsʼ and sisterʼs
recent deaths in an automobile accident and her current role as sole supporter of her
younger brother and sister. Empathy was manipulated by instructing subjects either to
pay attention to the “technical aspects” of the news program (low empathy) or to “try to
imagine how the person who is being interviewed feels” (Batson et al., 1988, p. 61).
After hearing the news program, the subjects read two letters left by the profes-
sor in charge of the experiment. The ¬rst letter thanked the subjects for participating
and indicated that it occurred to him that some subjects might want to help Katie. The
second letter was from Katie herself, outlining ways that the subjects could help her
(e.g., babysitting, helping around the house, helping with fundraising projects). Subjects
indicated their willingness to help on a response form that was used for the justi¬cation
manipulation. The response form had eight spaces for individuals to indicate whether
they would help Katie. In all cases, seven of the eight spaces were already ¬lled in with
¬ctitious names. In the low justi¬cation for not helping condition, ¬ve of the seven
individuals on the list had agreed to help Katie. In the high justi¬cation for not helping
condition, only two of the seven agreed to help.
The empathy-punishment explanation predicts that when there is a strong justi¬ca-
tion for not helping, the amount of empathy aroused wonʼt matter. The empathy-altruism
hypothesis predicts that empathic motivation matters most when justi¬cation for not
helping and empathy are high. Only when people fail to empathize with the person in
need does high justi¬cation for not helping have an effect on helping. The results of the
research support the empathy-altruism hypothesis (Batson, 1990a; Batson et al., 1988).
If a person has empathic feelings and truly cares about the person in need, rationaliza-
tions, however strong, do not stop him or her from helping.
Yet another challenge to the empathy-altruism hypothesis comes from research
by Cialdini and his colleagues. Cialdini suggested that the data supporting the
empathy-altruism hypothesis can be reinterpreted with changes in oneʼs sense of self
that occur in empathy situations. Cialdini and colleagues argued that in addition to
Social Psychology
408

arousing empathic concern about a person in distress, helping situations also arouse
a greater sense of self-other overlap. Speci¬cally, the helper sees more of himself or
herself in the person in need (Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce, & Neuberg, 1997). When
this occurs, the helper may engage in helping because of a greater sense of closeness
with the victim than with the arousal of empathic concern alone.
Cialdini and colleagues (1997) conducted three experiments to test the self-other
oneness hypothesis. They found that when the self-other-oneness dimension was con-
sidered along with empathy arousal, the relationship between empathy and altruism was
weakened substantially. Furthermore, they found that empathy increases altruism only
if it results in an increase in self-other oneness. According to Cialdini and colleagues,
empathic concern for a victim serves as an emotional cue for the increase in self-other
oneness. Additionally, as suggested by Neuberg and colleagues, because empathy is an
emotion, it may only be important in deciding between not helping or providing minimal
or super¬cial help (Newberg, Cialdini, Brown, Luce, & Sagarin, 1997).
However, the matter was not resolved, because Batson (1997) pointed out that the
methods used by Cialdini and colleagues were questionable. In fact, Batson and col-
leagues (1997) found that when more careful procedures were used, there was little
evidence that self-other oneness was critical in mediating the empathy-altruism link. As
to whether empathy arousal leads only to super¬cial helping, Batson pointed out that
the empathy-altruism hypothesis only states that empathy arousal is often associated
with an altruistic act and does not specify the depth of the act. Batson, however, does
acknowledge that there may be limits to the empathy-altruism relationship.
Where do we stand currently on these hypotheses about helping? Although the
research of Batson and others supports the empathy-altruism hypothesis (Batson
et al., 1988; Dovidio et al., 1990), other research does not. For example, a strong rela-
tionship has been found between feeling and giving help, a ¬nding that does not support
the empathy-altruism hypothesis (Cialdini & Fultz, 1990). If we give help when we
feel sad, it seems more likely that we are helping to relieve personal distress than out
of pure altruism.
It is apparent that the empathy-altruism hypothesis remains a point of controversy
in social psychology. Batson (1997) suggested that the controversy exists mainly over
whether there is enough clear evidence to justify acceptance of the empathy-altruism
hypothesis. There is agreement, according to Batson, that empathy can be a factor in
altruistic behavior. At this point, it is probably best to adopt a position between the com-
peting hypotheses. People may be motivated by empathic altruism, but they seem to need
to know that the victim bene¬ted from their help (Smith, Keating, & Stotland, 1989).
This allows them to experience empathic joy for helping the victim. Empathic joy simply
means that helpers feel good about the fact that their efforts helped someone and that
there was a positive outcome for that person. Helpers get a reward: the knowledge that
someone they helped bene¬ted. Additionally, helping situations may arouse a greater
sense of closeness or oneness with the helper and the victim. In any event, empathy
does appear to be an important emotion involved in altruism.


Biological Explanations: Helping in Order to Preserve Our
Own Genes
As mentioned earlier, some psychologists have been skeptical about the existence of
purely altruistic behavior, because they believe behavior is shaped and regulated by
rewards and punishments. But there is another reason psychologists have been skepti-
cal about the existence of pure altruism, and that reason is biological: People or animals
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 409

that carry altruism involving personal danger to its logical conclusion will sometimes
die. Because self-preservation, or at least the preservation of oneʼs genes (i.e., oneʼs
children or relatives), is a fundamental rule of evolutionary biology, pure altruism stands
on some shaky grounds (Wilson, 1978). Self-sacri¬cing behavior is very rare. When
it occurs, we reward it extravagantly. The Medal of Honor, for example, is given for
extraordinary bravery, behavior that goes beyond the call of duty.
Evolutionary biologists ¬nd altruistic behavior fascinating, because it presents a bio-
logical paradox: In light of the principle of survival of the ¬ttest, how can a behavior have
evolved that puts the individual at risk and makes survival less likely (Wilson, 1975)?
The principle of natural selection favors sel¬sh behavior. Those animals that take care
of themselves and do not expend energy on helping others are more likely to survive
and reproduce their genes. The basic measure of biological ¬tness is the relative number
of an individualʼs offspring that survive and reproduce (Wilson, 1975).
The evolutionary biologistʼs answer to the paradox is to suggest that there are no
examples of purely altruistic, totally sel¬‚ess behavior in nature. Instead, there is behav-
ior that may have the effect of helping others but also serves some sel¬sh purpose. For
example, consider the white-fronted bee eater, a bird living in eastern and southern Africa
(Goleman, 1991b). These birds live in complex colonies consisting of 15 to 25 extended
families. Family units consist of about four overlapping generations. When breeding
time arrives, some family members do not breed. Instead, they serve as helpers who
devote themselves to constructing nests, feeding females, and defending the young.
This helping is called alloparenting, or cooperative breeding.
How could such behavior have evolved? The bee eaters who do not breed lose
the opportunity to pass on their genes to offspring. However, their behavior does help
to ensure the survival of the whole colony and, speci¬cally, the family members with
whom they share genes. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the bee eater
helpers provide cooperative help only to their closest relatives. Birds that could have
provided help but do not turn out to be “in-laws””birds that have no genetic connec-
tion with the mating pairs. Although the helping behavior does not further the survival
of the individualʼs genes, it serves to preserve the individualʼs gene pool.
Do humans differ signi¬cantly from animals when it comes to altruism? According
to sociobiologists, human social behavior is governed by the same rules that order all
animal behavior. A central problem of sociobiology is to explain how altruism can exist
even though such behavior endangers individual ¬tness and survival (Wilson, 1975, 1978).
However, there is ample evidence that altruism among humans ¬‚ourishes and endures.
One possible resolution to this apparent paradox lies in the idea that human sur-
vival, dating to the beginnings of human society, depends on cooperation. Human
beings, smaller, slower, and weaker than many other animal species, needed to form
cooperative groups to survive. In such groups reciprocal altruism may be more impor-
tant than kin altruism. In reciprocal altruism, the costs of behaving altruistically are
weighed against the bene¬ts. If there is greater bene¬t than cost, an altruistic response
will occur. Also, reciprocal altruism involves a kind of tit-for-tat mentality: You help
me, and Iʼll help you.
Cooperation and reciprocal altruism (helping one another) would have been selected
for, genetically, because they increase the survival of human beings (Hoffman, 1981).
Unlike animals, humans do not restrict their helping to close genetic relatives. Instead,
humans can maintain the gene pool by helping those who share common characteris-
tics, even if they are not close kin (Glassman, Packel, & Brown, 1986). Helping nonkin
may help one preserve oneʼs distinguishing characteristics in the gene pool in a manner
analogous to helping kin.
Social Psychology
410

Social psychologists acknowledge that biology plays a role in altruistic behavior.
Altruism does not occur as often or as naturally as aggression, but it does occur. However,
social psychology also points out that altruistic behavior in humans is determined by
more than the biological dimension of our nature.



Helping in Emergencies: A Five-Stage
Decision Model
Irene Opdykeʼs decision to help the Jews in Ternopol is an example of helping involv-
ing a long-term commitment to a course of action. We refer to this as long-term helping.
Opdykeʼs help involved a commitment that was extended over a period of months and
required a great investment of effort and resources. However, there are many other
situations that require quick action involving a short-term commitment to helping. For
example, if you saw a child fall into a pond, you probably would rescue that child.
We refer to this type of helping as situation-speci¬c helping. This helping, most likely
in response to an emergency, does not require a long-term investment of effort and
resources.
Emergency situations in which bystanders give help occur quite often. But there are
also many instances in which bystanders remain passive and do not intervene. This is
true even when a victim is in clear need of help. One such incident captured the atten-
tion not only of the public but also of social psychologists: the tragic death of Kitty
Genovese on March 13, 1964.
Genovese, a 24-year-old waitress, was coming home from work in Queens, New
York, late one night. As she walked to her apartment building, a man wielding a knife
attacked her. She screamed for help; 38 of her neighbors took notice from their apart-
ments. One yelled for the man to stop. The attacker ran off, only to return when it was
obvious that nobody was coming to her aid. He stabbed Genovese repeatedly, eventually
killing her. The attack lasted 40 minutes. When the police were called, they responded
within 2 minutes. More than 40 years later, this tragedy continues to raise questions
about why her neighbors did not respond to her cries for help.
The Genovese tragedy and similar incidents that occur all too frequently have raised
many questions among the public and among social scientists. Dissatis¬ed with expla-
nations that blamed life in the big city (“urban apathy”), social psychologists Darley
and Latan© began to devise some explanations about why the witnesses to Genoveseʼs
murder did nothing to intervene. Darley and Latan© sketched out a social psychologi-
cal model to explain the bystandersʼ behavior.
The model proposed that there are ¬ve stages a bystander must pass through, each
representing an important decision, before he or she will help a person in need (Latan©,
& Darley, 1968). In their original formulation of the model, Latan© and Darley (1968)
suggested that a bystander must notice the situation, label the situation correctly as an
emergency, and assume responsibility for helping. Darley and Latan© proposed that
there is a factor even beyond assuming responsibility: The individual must decide how
to help. Help, according to these researchers, could take the form of direct interven-
tion (Irene Opdykeʼs behavior) or indirect intervention (calling the police). The general
model proposed by Latan© and Darley (1968; Darley & Latan©, 1968), along with an
additional stage, is shown in Figure 11.3.
At each stage of the model, the individual must assess the situation and make a “yes”
or “no” decision. At any point in the decision process, a “no” decision will lead to failure
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 411


No
Help provided
Yes
No
Implement
decision
Yes
No
Decide how
Figure 11.3 The ¬ve-
to help
stage model of helping.
Yes
The path to helping
No
Assume begins with noticing an
responsibility emergency situation. Next,
a potential helper must
Yes
label the situation correctly
No as an emergency and
Label correctly
then assume responsibility
for helping. A negative
Yes
decision at any point will
lead to nonhelping.
Notice No help provided
Based on Darley and Latan© (1968) and
Latan© and Darley (1968).




to help. A “yes” decision itself does not guarantee intervention; it simply allows the person
to move to the next stage of the model. According to the model, help will be given only
if a “yes” decision is made at each stage. Letʼs consider each of the ¬ve stages.

Stage 1: Noticing the Situation
Before we can expect a person to intervene in a situation, that person must have noticed
that an emergency exists. If, for example, an accident occurred 10 miles from where
you are presently sitting, you would not be expected to help because you are unaware
of the accident. Before you can act, you must be aware that something has occurred.
For example, Kitty Genoveseʼs neighbors were aware of what was happening to Kitty.
Noticing was not a problem for the witnesses.
Noticing is purely a sensory/perceptual phenomenon. If the emergency situation
catches our attention, we will notice the situation. As such, noticing involves the basic
laws of perception, such as the ¬gure-ground relationship. This fundamental relationship
is manifested when a stimulus stands out against a background. For example, when you
go to a museum and look at a painting hanging on the gallery wall, the painting is the

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