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What Is The Difference Between Prosocial Behaviour And Altruism?

1646 words - 7 pages

What is the difference between prosocial behaviour and altruism? Does genuine altruism exist? Discuss in relation to social psychological aspects of evolutionary theory and related research.

Word Count: 1472
Prosocial and altruistic behaviours are both behaviours that serve for the good of others and society. However, research has shown that there are important differences between the two types of behaviours. The purpose of this paper is to distinguish between prosocial behaviour and altruism, as well as discussing whether or not genuine altruism exists. Following this discussion, a brief conclusion will be made in relation to whether the research agrees or disagrees with the concept of ...view middle of the document...

The 19th century philosopher Auguste Comte (1875) described two forms of helping behaviours that have been studied in depth (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Egoistic helping is performed if the helper’s goal is to increase his or her welfare. The helper expects something in return for their help. In contrast to egoistic helping, altruistic helping is performed if the helper’s goal is to increase another’s welfare. Therefore, the altruistic helper should expect nothing in return for their help.

The rest of this paper will discuss whether altruism truly exists, or if all helping is simply egoistic. The following are examples of acts of altruism that were cited in Peterson & Seligman (2004):
- Angela Salawa of Krakow, Poland who looked after WW1 soldiers of all nationalities.
- Oskar Schindler of Nazi Germany who rescued some 1200 Jews during the holocaust.
- Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia who founded a number of mission centres and schools for Native Americans
- Numbers of individuals and organisations (e.g., Red Cross) who fly to terror attacks (e.g., 9/11) and natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) to help others in need.

One example that Peterson & Seligman (2004) did not mention was the heroics of Chiune Sugihara from Japan. Chiune Sugihara was the Deputy Consul General to Lithuania. Chiune Sughiara saved 5,000-10,000 Jews. He did this by illegally giving out visas to stranded Jewish refugees who were seeking to escape from Nazi persecution (The Chiune Sugihara Centennial Celebration Committee, 2000). There is no doubt that the costs and risks associated with his behaviours far outweighed the benefits, that is, if there were any benefits at all.

Empathy is the ability to either experience the emotional state of another or to display a pitiful emotion associated with the downfall of another (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Empathic concern is a strong predictor of altruistic behaviour (Unger & Thumuluri, 1997). It also explains a significant variance of these behaviours (McNeely & Meglino, 1994). Bierhoff, Klein, & Kramp (1991) postulated the presence of empathy in individuals who help in emergencies. Warneken & Tomasello as cited in Baumeister & Bushman (2008) used 18 month-old toddlers in a study where an adult confederate would either drop something or simply throw something down. If the adult dropped the object and made it look like an accident (as shown by a facial expression), the toddlers were more likely to help pick-up the object for the adult. If the adult simply threw the object on the ground and didn’t seem to care then toddlers were more likely not to care. There is certainly some solid evidence concerning the existence of the role of empathy in altruistic behaviour.

The empathy-altruism hypothesis states that empathy acts as a strong motivator in the performance of altruistic acts, in order to reduce another’s distress (Batson, Batson, Slingsby, Harrell, Peekna, & Todd, 1991). In contrast to the...

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