Social Justice Research

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 53–97

Altruism Born of Suffering and Prosocial Behavior Following Adverse Life Events: A Review and Conceptualization


DOI: 10.1007/s11211-009-0088-1

Cite this article as:
Vollhardt, J.R. Soc Just Res (2009) 22: 53. doi:10.1007/s11211-009-0088-1


This paper introduces the concept of “altruism born of suffering,” and provides a review and integration of relevant research and theories from various disciplines. In contrast to the well-supported notion that prosocial behavior is rooted in positive experiences, whereas violence and adversity often contribute to further violence and antisocial behavior, it is proposed that suffering may actually enhance the motivation to help other disadvantaged members of society, including outgroups. A motivational process model is presented that includes a typology of altruism born of suffering, integrates clinical and social psychological perspectives on underlying processes, and proposes potential mediators and moderators. Relevant empirical studies are reviewed that provide initial support for this model. A particular emphasis is placed on victims of group-based violence, and implications for intergroup relations and social justice.


AltruismProsocial behaviorSufferingCollective violenceIntergroup relations

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Massachusetts, AmherstAmherstUSA