Some forms of helping behaviour:
- Stay up all night to comfort a friend who has just suffered a broken relationship,
- Send money to rescue famine victims halfway around the world,
- Stop on a busy highway to push a friend’s - even a stranger’s car out of a snowdrift.
Such examples are heartwarming and inspiring. For social psychologists, they are also a puzzle because they raise the question of motives. Why do we spend so much of our time, money and energy on others?
The long debate has raged for centuries from Plato and Aristotle, to St Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, Adam Smith and Friedrich Nietzsche. The majority view is that everything that we do including everything we do for others, is always done to benefit ourselves; we are unremitting egoists.
In Donald Campbell’s 1975 Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association:
He summarized that, “ psychology and psychiatry […] not only describe man as sefishly motivated, but implicitly and explicitly teach that he ought to be so.
Three rewards that a helper may seek are:
- Reciprocity credit - self benefit of knowing that the person you have benefited owes you one.
- Mood enhancement - we are more likely to help someone when we feel bad because we know that we can give ourselves a pat on the back when we do something nice like helping and this will make us feel better. Besides that, people who felt bad because they had accidentally harmed someone were more likely to elicit helping behaviour.
- Empathic joy - the feeling of pleasure at seeing the person in need experience relief. The counterpart of this feeling is empathic costs. These are the discomfort you anticipate feeling because of the empathy you will feel for the person in need as they continue to suffer.
Reviewing the empathy-alruism research, as well as recent literature in sociology, economics, political science and biology, Pivialin and Charng (1990) concluded true altruism - acting with the goal of benefiting another - does exists and is a part of human nature.
Speculatively hypothesised, the most plausible answer for its existence relates empathic feelings to parenting in higher mammals, in which offspring live for some time in a very vulnerable state. As a result, it may promote one’s reproductive potential, not by increasing the number of offspring but by increasing the chance of their survival.
Collectivism: Benefiting another to benefit a group
Collectivism - a motivation to benefit a particular group as a whole. The ultimate goal is not to increase one’s own welfare but to increase the welfare of the group.
The collectivist motivation is a product of group identity. It is viewed as an enlightened version of egoism.