The Psychology Behind Helping and Prosocial Behaviors: An Examination from Intention to Action

  • Jennifer L. Silva
  • Loren D. Marks
  • Katie E. CherryEmail author


When disasters strike, many people rise to the challenge of providing immediate assistance to those whose lives are in peril. The spectrum of helping behaviors to counter the devastating effects of a natural disaster is vast and can be seen on many levels, from concerned individuals and community groups to volunteer organizations and larger civic entities. In this chapter, we examine the psychology of helping in relation to natural disasters. Definitions of helping behaviors, why we help, and risks of helping others are discussed first. Next, we discuss issues specific to natural disasters and life span considerations, noting the developmental progression of age-related, altruistic motivations. We present a qualitative analysis of helping behaviors based on interviews with participants in the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study (LHAS; see Cherry, Silva, & Galea, Chapter 9). These data show that some people directly engaged in helping behaviors to further the relief effort after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while others spoke of helping indirectly through their associations with local churches and faith-based organizations that provided storm relief. Implications for helping behaviors and intentions to help in a post-disaster situation are considered.


Prosocial Behavior Altruistic Behavior Relief Effort Faith Community Reciprocal Altruism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Tracey Frias, Miranda Melancon, and Zia McWilliams for their assistance with data summary and qualitative analyses. We also thank Erin C. Goforth for her helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

This research was supported by grants from the Louisiana Board of Regents through the Millennium Trust Health Excellence Fund (HEF[2001-06]-02) and the National Institute on Aging P01 AG022064. This support is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer L. Silva
    • 1
  • Loren D. Marks
  • Katie E. Cherry
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Louisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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