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a product of a deliberative
et al., courageous resistance is “sel¬‚ess behavior in which there is a high risk/cost to
process, and involves a
moral calling.
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 427

the actor, and possibly to the actorʼs family or associates, where the behavior must be
sustained over time, is most often deliberative, and often where the actor is responding
to a moral calling” (p. 789).
Courageous resistors can be found in a wide range of situations. For example,
William Lawless was put in charge of waste disposal at the Savannah River reactor,
even though he had little experience in radioactive waste disposal. He became aware
that liquid radioactive wastes were being dumped into shallow trenches. When he started
asking questions, he was told to keep quiet about it. Instead, Lawless went public, and
as a result, massive cleanup efforts were undertaken to remove radioactive waste dis-
posed of improperly. From the political world is Nelson Mandela, founder of the African
National Congress in South Africa. Mandela took a stand against apartheid (the system
in South Africa that separated whites and blacks socially, economically, and linguisti-
cally). For his efforts he spent 28 years in prison. Eventually, he was released and went
on to become the leader of that country.
Sometimes individuals arise as courageous resistors that surprise us. Two examples
are John Rabe and Albert Goering. Rabe was a Nazi businessman in Nanking, China.
After the Japanese invaded Nanking and began murdering Chinese civilians, Rabe
used his Nazi credentials and connections to save nearly 250,000 Chinese by protect-
ing them in a German compound, often facing down armed Japanese soldiers only with
his Nazi credentials. Albert Goering, the half-brother of Hermann Goering (the second
highest of¬cial in Nazi Germany), is credited with saving hundreds of persecuted Jews
during World War II. He would forge his brotherʼs name on transit documents and use
his brotherʼs in¬‚uence if he got caught. Despite having grown up in the same house as
his brother Hermann, Albert emerged as a much different person, dedicated to helping
persecuted Jews escape those his brother sent to persecute them.
heroism Helping that
A concept closely related to courageous resistance is heroism. Heroism is any
involves signi¬cant risk above
helping act that involves signi¬cant risk above what is normally expected and serves
what is normally expected
some socially valued goal (Becker & Eagly, 2004). The two elements of this de¬nition
and serves some socially
require some elaboration. There are many jobs that require considerable risk such as
valued goal.
police of¬cer and ¬re¬ghter. We expect individuals in these roles to accept a degree of
risk. So, for example, we expect a ¬re¬ghter to enter a burning building to save victims.
Such behavior is not necessarily heroic because it is expected of ¬re¬ghters. However,
if a ¬re¬ghter goes back several times into a building on the verge of collapse to rescue
victims, that would qualify as heroic. The second requirement of a heroic act is that it
serves some valued goal. Saving lives is certainly a valued goal, as is putting oneʼs job
on the line to expose a wrong.
As you can see, heroism and courageous resistance have common elements. They
have one important difference: A heroic act need not involve an extended commitment.
A heroic act can be a one-shot occurrence involving a quick decision made on the spot.
For example, Rick Rescorla (head of security for a ¬rm at the World Trade Center),
who reentered the World Trade Center to help stragglers get out and died when one of
the towers collapsed, would be considered heroic. His behavior clearly involved risk
and served the higher goal. It did not, however, involve the deliberative process over
time and the long-term commitment to a course of action. So, one can be heroic without
being a courageous resistor.
Finally, a heroic act need not always be motivated by empathy for a victim or altru-
ism. There can be a number of motives for a heroic act. For example, a ¬re¬ghter might
act in a heroic way to gain recognition and secure a promotion. His or her egoistic moti-
vations do not diminish the heroic nature of any act he or she performs.
Social Psychology
428

In this section of the chapter we shall focus on one particular example of coura-
geous resistance and heroism: Ordinary people who, under extraordinary circumstances,
helped rescue Jews from the Nazis during World War II. You should keep in mind that
what these individuals did was exceedingly dangerous. Anyone caught helping Jews
was dealt with harshly, including being sent to death camps or summarily hanged.
Because of prevailing anti-Jewish attitudes and the threat of punishment, engaging in
rescue activity was relatively rare, especially in Eastern Europe. However, there were
those who risked their lives to help others, in some cases for years.
Before we begin our discussion of rescuers, it is important to note that the relationship
between altruism and courageous resistance may, at times, be tenuous. Not all altruistic
individuals are courageous. For example, undoubtedly there were many Christians who
deplored what the Nazis were doing to Jews and felt empathy for the Jews. However,
because of fear of being caught and executed, many of these individuals did not translate
their empathic concern into tangible action to help. Likewise, not all courageous people
are altruistic. For example, Tec (1986) reports that some people who helped the Jews
were “paid helpers” who helped Jews primarily for the money. These individuals were
not motivated by empathy or altruism. As a result, the quality of care received by Jews
helped by paid helpers was far lower than those helped by rescuers (Tec, 1986).

Explaining Courageous Resistance and Heroism: The Role
of Personality
Much of the research on helping behavior that we have discussed suggests that whether
people help depends on situational factors. For example, research shows that the costs
of helping, the degree of responsibility for helping, the assumed characteristics of the
victim, and the dangerousness of the situation all affect helping behavior. None of these
factors are under the control of the potential helper; they are part of the situation.
Situational factors seem to be crucial in situations that require spontaneous helping
(Clary & Orenstein, 1991). The situations created in the laboratory, or for that matter
in the ¬eld, are analogous to looking at a single frame in a motion picture. Recall the
seminarians. They were in a hurry, and although thinking of the parable of the Good
Samaritan, they practically leapt over the slumped body of a person in need of their help.
Is this unexpected event a fair and representative sample of their behavior? It was for
that particular situation. But, unless we look at what comes before and after, we cannot
make judgments about how they would behave in other situations. Looking at these
single-frame glimpses of helping can lead us to overlook personality variables.
Although personality factors come into play in all forms of altruism, they may be
more likely to come to the fore in long-term helping situations. Helping on a long-term
basis, whether it involves volunteering at a hospital or Albert Goering helping Jews,
requires a degree of planning. This planning might take place before the help begins. Or
it may occur after help begins. For example, rescuers of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe
often did not plan their initial helping acts (Tec, 1986). However, their continued helping
required thought and planning. During planning, helpers assess risks, costs, and priori-
ties, and they match personal morals and abilities with victimsʼ needs.
History teaches us that in times of great need, a select few individuals emerge to
offer long-term help. What is it about these people that sets them apart from others who
remain on the sidelines? Midlarsky, Fagin Jones, and Corley (2005) compared rescuers
and nonrescuers on a number of personality dimensions. They found that the rescuers
possessed a cluster of personality characteristics that distinguished them from nonrescuers.
These characteristics were: “locus of control, autonomy, risk taking, social responsibility,
empathic, concern, and altruistic moral reasoning” (p. 918). Rescuers, compared to
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 429

nonrescuers, were more internally motivated, were more independent, were more likely
to take risks, showed higher levels of social responsibility, had more empathic concern
for others, and were more likely to be driven by internal moral/altruistic values. Further,
they found that altruistic moral reasoning was the strongest correlate of rescue activity.
altruistic personality
So, there is evidence for an altruistic personality, or a cluster of personality traits,
A cluster of personality traits
including empathy, that predisposes them to great acts of altruism. However, we also
that predisposes a person to
must remain mindful that situational forces still may be important, even in long-term
acts of altruism.
helping situations. In the sections that follow, we explore how situational factors and
personality factors combine to in¬‚uence altruism. We begin by considering the factors
that in¬‚uenced a relatively small number of individuals to help rescue Jews from the
Nazis during their World War II occupation of Europe.

Righteous Rescuers in Nazi-Occupied Europe
As Hitlerʼs ¬nal solution (the systematic extermination of European Jews) progressed,
life for Jews in Europe became harder and more dangerous. Although most of Eastern
Europeʼs and many of Western Europeʼs Jews were murdered, some did survive. Some
survived on their own by passing as Christians or leaving their homes ahead of the
Nazis. Many, however, survived with the help of non-Jews who risked their lives to
help them. The state of Israel recognizes a select group of those who helped Jews for
righteous rescuer
their heroism and designates them as righteous rescuers (Tec, 1986).
The designation bestowed by
Sadly, not as many individuals emerged as rescuers as one might wish. The number
Israel on non-Jews who helped
of rescuers is estimated to have been between 50,000 and 500,000, a small percentage
save Jews from the Nazis
of those living under Nazi rule (Oliner & Oliner, 1988). In short, only a minority of during World War II.
people were willing to risk their lives to help others.
It should not be too surprising that the majority did not help the Jews. Those caught
helping Jews, even in the smallest way, were subjected to punishment, death in an exter-
mination camp, or summary execution. In other cases, especially in Poland, rescuing
Jews amounted to ¬‚ying in the face of centuries of anti-Semitic attitudes and religious
doctrine that identi¬ed Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ (Oliner & Oliner, 1988; Tec,
1986). The special problems facing Polish rescuers are illustrated in the following quo-
tation from one: “My husband hated Jews. . . . Anti-Semitism was ingrained in him. Not
only was he willing to burn every Jew but even the earth on which they stood. Many
Poles feel the way he did. I had to be careful of the Poles” (Tec, 1986, p. 54).
Because Polish rescuers violated such powerful social norms, some social psycholo-
autonomous altruism
gists have suggested that their behavior is an example of autonomous altruism, sel¬‚ess
Sel¬‚ess altruism that society
help that society does not reinforce (Tec, 1986). In fact, such altruism may be discour-
does not support or might
aged by society. Rescuers in countries outside Poland may have been operating from a
even discourage.
different motive. Most rescuers in Western Europe, although acting out of empathy for
the Jews, may have had a normocentric motivation for their ¬rst act of helping (Oliner
& Oliner, 1988). A normocentric motivation for helping is oriented more toward a group
(perhaps society) with whom an individual identi¬es than toward the individual in need.
In small towns in southern France, for example, rescuing Jews became normative, the
accepted and expected thing to do. This type of altruism is known as normative altru-
ism, altruism that society supports and encourages (Tec, 1986).
Finally, it is important to understand that not only were general attitudes throughout
Europe related to the frequency and type of rescue activity, but so were speci¬c cultural
and social forces within speci¬c regions of Europe. For example, Buckser (2001) points
out that the large-scale rescue of Danish Jews is best understood within the cultural context
of Denmark and its relationship to its Jewish population. Buckser points out that in many
areas the Danish population did not resist German occupation. However, when it came to
Social Psychology
430

the Jewish population, Danes came together to save all but a few Danish Jews. Buckser
believes that Danes rose up to help the Jews because of Grundtvigian Nationalism,
which essentially placed Danish national and cultural identity above differences among
people. In Denmark, Jews had successfully assimilated into the larger Danish culture.
So, when the Germans invaded and tried to portray the Jews as threatening outsiders, it
didnʼt work well. Instead, the German characterization of the Jews activated the unique
Danish Nationalism, and Danes who otherwise acquiesced to the Germans actively took
part in the large-scale evacuation of Danish Jews to Sweden.

The Oliners and the Altruistic Personality Project
One family victimized by the Nazis in Poland was that of Samuel Oliner. One day in
1942, when Samuel was 12 years old and living in the village of Bobawa, he was roused
by the sound of soldiersʼ boots cracking the predawn silence. He escaped to the roof and
hid there in his pajamas until they left. When he dared to come down from his rooftop
perch, the Jews of Bobawa lay buried in a mass grave. The village was empty.
Two years earlier, Samuelʼs entire family had been killed by the Nazis. Now he
gathered some clothes and walked for 48 hours until he reached the farm of Balwina
Piecuch, a peasant woman who had been friendly to his family in the past. The
12-year-old orphan knocked at her door. When Piecuch saw Samuel, she gathered him
into her house. There she harbored him against the Nazis, teaching him what he needed
to know of the Christian religion to pass as a Polish stable boy.
Oliner survived the war, immigrated to the United States, and went on to teach
at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. One of his courses was on the
Holocaust. In it, he examined the fate of the millions of Jews, Gypsies, and other
Europeans who were systematically murdered by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945.
In 1978, one of his students, a German woman, became distraught, saying she couldnʼt
bear the guilt over what her people had done.
At this point, Oliner realized that the history of the war, a story of murder, mayhem,
and sadism, had left out a small but important aspect: the accomplishments of the many
altruistic people who acted to help Jews and did so without expectation of external
rewards (Goldman, 1988; Oliner & Oliner, 1988). Oliner and his wife, Pearl, estab-
lished the Altruistic Personality Project to study the character and motivations of those
altruists, whom the Oliners rightly call heroes.

Situational Factors Involved in Becoming a Rescuer
Oliner and Oliner (1988) and Tec (1986) investigated the situational forces that in¬‚u-
ence individuals to become rescuers. These situational factors can be captured in the
¬ve questions for which the Oliners wanted to ¬nd answers:
1. Did rescuers know more about the dif¬culties the Jews faced than nonrescuers?
2. Were rescuers better off ¬nancially and therefore better able to help?
3. Did rescuers have social support for their efforts?
4. Did rescuers adequately evaluate the risks, the costs of helping?
5. Were rescuers asked to help, or did they initiate helping on their own?
The Oliners interviewed rescuers and a matched sample of nonrescuers over the
course of a 5-year study and compared the two groups. The Oliners used a 66-page ques-
tionnaire, translated into Polish, German, French, Dutch, Italian, and Norwegian and
Chapter 11 Prosocial Behavior and Altruism 431

used 28 bilingual interviews. Results indicate that the situational differences between
rescuers and nonrescuers were not as signi¬cant as expected. For example, rescuers
were not wealthier than nonrescuers. Tec (1986) reported that the greatest number of
Polish helpers came from the peasant class, not the upper class of Poles. Additionally,
rescuers and nonrescuers alike knew about the persecution of the Jews and knew the
risks involved in going to their aid (Oliner & Oliner, 1988).
Only two situational variables were relevant to the decision to rescue. First, family
support was important for the rescue effort (Tec, 1986). Sixty percent of the rescuers in
Tecʼs sample reported that their families supported the rescue effort, compared to only
12% who said that their families opposed rescue efforts, a ¬nding mirrored in Oliner
and Olinerʼs study. Evidence suggests that rescue was made more likely by the rescu-
ersʼ being af¬liated with a group that supported the rescue effort (Baron, 1986). We can
conclude that support from some outside agency, be it the family or another support
group, made rescue more likely.
The second situational factor was how the rescuer ¬rst began his or her efforts.
In most cases (68%), rescuers helped in response to a speci¬c request to help; only
32% initiated help on their own (Oliner & Oliner, 1988). Tec reported a similar result.
For most rescuers the ¬rst act of help was unplanned. But once a rescuer agreed to help
that ¬rst time, he or she was likely to help again. Help was refused in a minority of
instances (about 15%), but such refusal was related to speci¬c risks involved in giving
help. Most rescuers (61%) helped for 6 months or more (Tec, 1986). And 90% of the
people rescuers helped were strangers (Goldman, 1988).
These situational factors”the costs of helping, a request for help, and the support
of other bystanders in a group of which the rescuer was a member”also have been
identi¬ed in research as important in in¬‚uencing the decision to help.

Personality Factors Involved in Becoming a Rescuer
The results of the work by Oliner and Oliner (1988) suggest that rescuers and nonrescuers
differed from each other less by circumstances than by their upbringing and personali-
ties. The Oliners found that rescuers exhibited a strong feeling of personal responsibility
for the welfare of other people and a compelling need to act on that felt responsibility.
They were moved by the pain of the innocent victims, by their sadness, helplessness,
and desperation. Empathy for the victim was an important factor driving this form of
altruism. Interestingly, rescuers and nonrescuers did not differ signi¬cantly on general
measures of empathy. However, they did differ on a particular type of empathy called
emotional empathy, which centers on oneʼs sensitivity to the pain and suffering of others
(Oliner & Oliner, 1988). According to the Oliners, this empathy, coupled with a sense
of social responsibility, increased the likelihood that an individual would make and
keep a commitment to help.
Beyond empathy, rescuers shared several other characteristics (Tec, 1986). First, they
showed an inability to blend in with others in the environment. That is, they tended to be
socially marginal, not ¬tting in very well with others. Second, rescuers exhibited a high

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