Prosocial Behaviour

Prosocial Behaviour

Prosocial Behaviour is defined as voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another person or people. Prosocial behaviour encourages such behaviour in others, and helps to develop desirable traits in children.

Situation Factors that Influence Helping

The Bystander Effect accounts for a lot of the situational reasons to help or not; if there are more people you are less likely to help.

Diffusion of Responsibility:
Is increased…

  • In conditions where it's difficult to tell if someone else has helped
  • Under anonymity (without people who know you)

Hence to get maximum help:

  • Counteract ambiguity - make it super clear that you need help (and how/why)
  • Reduce diffusion of responsiblity - single people out (“You in the blue - call OOO”)

Steps to Intervening in an Emergency

There are five steps that someone has to get through in order to help out in an emergency.

  1. Notice the situation

Darley and Batson's (1973) attempted to put the participants in the best possible mindset for helping, in order to rule out any of the other factors:

  • Seminary students
  • About to deliver a sermon on the Good Samaritan
  • Told these students to walk to the next building to deliver their sermon, told they were either early/late/on-time.


  1. Identify the situation as an emergency

Something salient isn't always dangerous. Social situations are often ambiguous.
People use Informational Social Influence to help categorise things (are others responding as if it’s an emergency?)

Shotland & Straw (1976) did a field experiment where they staged a fighting man and woman.

  • “I don’t know you!” = 65% of observers intervened
  • “I don’t know why I ever married you!" = 19% of observers intervened
  1. Assume responsibility

The Bystander Effect describes the inversely proportional relationship between the likelihood of getting help in a situation and the number of people there.

In the Kitty Genovese case (woman loudly attacked outside an apartment block with 38 people inside who did nothing for 45 minutes), one husband wanted to call police but his wife stopped him; ‘Oh, 30 other people must have already called’.

  1. Be competent/capable in the action required

There is a direct correlation between feeling competent in the actions required and actually assisting.

Studies with drowning people on a beach show this.

  1. Decide to help

Sometimes people instantly jump into help, and sometimes it takes longer to weigh up the consequences of helping:

  • Will this make them look good
  • Will they mess up and be embarrassed
  • Will they be sued or otherwise punished if it goes badly


Personal Factors that Influence Helping

  • People who are more helpful in one situation are consistently helpful in others across the board, and this is reasonably stable over time.

Nobody is 100% sure what determines if someone is helpful or not. Ideas are:

  • Empathy
  • Religious Faith
    • Minor Emergency Situations
    • Planned Helping (Volunteering)
  • Cultural Factors
    • Levine et al (2001) gave people in 23 different cities the opportunity to help people and measured the results.
    • Connection between giving cultures: Simpatia - “accord, agreement and harmony in relationships, marriage, the family and society”


Personal Factors that Influence Being Helped

  • Attributions of Responsibility: People help others depending on whether they are responsible for their predicament.
    • People help those who help themselves (try to take notes but fail at it)
    • People help those who don't hurt themselves (donate to cancer rather than HIV/AIDS
  • Similarity
    • We help people similar to us - e.g. someone wearing your team's jersey

Increasing Prosocial Behaviour

There's a social learning theory that people can learn to be helpful. This is backed up by two things:

  1. One helpful person in a situation has a ripple-on effect
  2. Studies have shown that the content kids/adults interact with in video games, TV shows and music affects how helpful they are afterwards.


Education people about the bystander effect 2 weeks prior to an event sees an increase in helpfulness.