Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

  • 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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-0393-8_11
  • Chapter length: 22 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   64.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-1-4419-0393-8
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   84.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   99.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

References

  • Axelrod, R. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., & Coke, J. S. (1981). Empathy: A source of altruistic motivation for helping? In P. Rushton & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Altruism and helping behavior: Social, personality, and developmental perspectives (pp. 167–187). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., Duncan, B. D., Ackerman, P., Buckley, T., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 290–302.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C. D., Fultz, J., & Schoenrade, P. (1987). Distress and empathy: Two qualitatively distinct vicarious emotions with different motivational consequences. Journal of Personality, 55, 19–39.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Beyerlein, K., & Sikkink, D. (2008). Sorrow and solidarity: Why Americans volunteered for 9/11 relief efforts. Social Problems, 55, 190–215.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Black, B., & Kovacs, P. J. (1999). Age-related variation in roles performed by hospice volunteers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 18, 479–497.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Blader, S. L., & Tyler, T. R. (2001). Justice and empathy: What motivates people to help others? In M. Ross & D. T. Miller (Eds.), The justice motive in everyday life (pp. 226–250). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vol. I). London: Hogarth.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Routledge Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brosnan, S. F., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2002). Approximate perspective on reciprocal altruism. Human Nature, 13, 129–152.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2007). Volunteering in the United States, 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm

  • Burnstein, E., Crandall, C., & Kitayama, S. (1994). Some neo-Darwinian decision rules for altruism: Weighing cues for inclusive fitness as a function of the biological importance of the decision. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 773–789.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cherry, K. E., Galea, S., & Silva, J. L. (2008). Successful aging and natural disasters: Role of adaptation and resiliency in late life. In M. Hersen & A. M. Gross (Eds.), Handbook of clinical psychology (Vol. 1, pp 810–833). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cherry, K. E., Galea, S., Su, L. J., Welsh, D. A., Jazwinski, S. M., Silva, J. L., et al. (2009). Cognitive and psychosocial consequences of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on middle aged, older, and oldest-old adults in the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study (LHAS). Journal of Applied Social Psychology (in press).

    Google Scholar 

  • Choi, L. H. (2003). Factors affecting volunteerism among older adults. The Journal of Applied Gerontology, 22, 179–196.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini, R. B., Baumann, D. J., & Kenrick, D. T. (1981). Insights from sadness: A three-step model of the development of altruism as hedonism. Developmental Review, 1, 207–223.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini, R. B., Kenriek, D. X., & Baumann, D. J. (1982). Effects of mood on prosocial behavior in children and adults. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), The development of prosocial behavior (pp.339–359). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini, R. B., Schaller, M., Houlihan, D., Arps, K., Fultz, J., & Beaman, A. (1987). Empathy-based helping: Is it selflessly or selfishly motivated? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 749–758.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Coke, J. S., Batson, C. D., & McDavis, K. (1978). Empathic mediation of helping: A two-stage model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 752–766.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cunningham, M. R., Jegerski, J., Gruder, C. L., & Barbee, A. P. (1995). Helping in different social relationships: Charity begins at home. Unpublished manuscript, University of Louisville.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dovidio, J. F., Piliavin, J. A., Schroeder, D. A., & Penner, L. A. (2006). The social psychology of prosocial behavior. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eisenberg, N., & Fabes, R. A. (1998). Prosocial development. Handbook of child psychology (5th ed., Vol. 3, pp. 701–778). New York: Wiley and Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fryock, C. D., & Dorton, A. M. (1994). Unretirement: A career guide for the retired…the soon-to be retired…the never-want-to-be retired. New York: American Management Assoc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fultz, J., Bateon, C. D., Fortenbach, V. A., McCarthy, P. M., & Varoey, L. L. (1986). Social evaluation and the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 761–769.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Fritz, C., & Williams, H. 1957. The human being in disasters: A research perspective. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 309, 42–51.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hamilton, W. D. (1963). The evolution of altruistic behavior. American Naturalist, 97, 354–356.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour: I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1–16 and 17–52.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, M. B., Benson, S. B., & Hall, C. L. (1975). The effects of confession on altruism. Journal of Social Psychology, 96, 187–192.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hedge, A., & Yousif, Y. H. (1992). Effects of urban size, urgency, and cost on helpfulness: A cross-cultural comparison between the United Kingdom and the Sudan. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 23, 107–115.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hertzog, A. R., & Morgan, J. S. (1993). Formal volunteer work among older Americans. In S. A. Bass, F. G. Caro, & Y. P. Chen (Eds.), Achieving a productive aging society (pp. 119–12). Westport, CT: Auburn House Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hood, K. E., Greenberg, G., & Tobach, E. (1995). Behavioral development: Concepts of approach-withdrawal and integrative levels. The T. C. Schneirla Conference Series, Vol. 5. New York: Garland.

    Google Scholar 

  • Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. (2007). Giving in the aftermath of the gulf coast hurricanes. Retrieved on September 29, 2008, from, http://foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/research/pdf/katrina_report_2007.pdf

  • Johnson, K., Beebe, M. T., Mortimer, J. T., & Snyder, M. (1998). Volunteerism in adolescence: A process perspective. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 8, 309–332.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kouri, M. K. (1990). Volunteerism and older adults. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Latané, B., & Darley, J. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn't he help? New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, M. J. (1980). The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, M. J. (1997). What does the belief in a just world protect us from: The dread of death or the fear of understanding suffering? Psychological Inquiry, 8, 29.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, M. J., & Simmons, C. H. (1966). The observer’s reaction to the ‘innocent victim’: Compassion or rejection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 203–210.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Litvack-Miller, W., McDougall, D., & Romney, D. M. (1997). The structure of empathy during middle childhood and its relationship to prosocial behaviour. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 123, 303–325.

    Google Scholar 

  • Madsen, E. A., Richard, J., Fieldman, G., Plotkin, H. C., Dunbar, R. I. M., Richardson, J., et al. (2007). Kinship and altruism: A cross-cultural study. British Journal of Psychology, 98, 339–359.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Michel, L. (2007). Personal responsibility and volunteering after a natural disaster: The case of hurricane Katrina. Sociological Spectrum, 27, 633–652.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Moore, C. W., & Allen, J. P. (1996). The effects of volunteering on the young volunteer. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 17, 231–258.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Morrow-Howell, N., & Tang, F. (2003). Elder service and youth service in comparative perspective: Nature, activities, and impacts. St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development [Working paper].

    Google Scholar 

  • Omoto, A. M., Synder, M., & Martino, S. C. (2000). Volunteerism and the life course: Investing age-related agendas for action. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 22, 181–197.

    Google Scholar 

  • Park, G. J. (2002). Factors influencing the meaning of life for middle-aged women. Korean Journal of Women’s Health Nursing, 2, 232–243.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Character strengths before and after September 11. Psychological Science, 14, 381–384.

    PubMed  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Piliavin, J., Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. L., & Clark, R. (1981). Emergency intervention. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenburg, J. (2003). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Rapoport, A., & Chammah, A. M. (1965). Prisoner's dilemma. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ridley, M. (2003). Nature via nurture: Genes, experience, and what makes us human. New York: Harper Collins Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, Z., & Peplau, L. A. (1975). Who believes in a just world? Journal of Social Issues, 31, 65–89.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Schaller, M., & Cialdini, R. B. (1988). The economics of empathic helping: Support for a mood management motive. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 163–181.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Tang, F. (2006). What resources are needed for volunteerism? A life course perspective. The Journal of Applied Gerontology, 25, 375–390.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Toi, M., & Batson, C. D. (1982). More evidence that empathy is a source of altruistic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 281–292.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, 35–57.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Trivers, R. L. (1983). The evolution of cooperation. In D. L. Bridgeman (Ed.), The nature of prosocial development. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tyler , T. R., Boeckmann, R. J., Smith, H. J., & Huo, Y. J. (1997). Social justice in a diverse society. Boulder: Westview.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallach, M. A., & Wallach, L. (1983). Psychology is sanction for selfishness: The error of egoism in theory and therapy. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilkinson, G. S. (1984). Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat. Nature, 308, 181–184.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Yates, M., & Youniss, J. (1996). A developmental perspective on community service in adolescence. Social Development, 5, 85–115.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgment

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katie E. Cherry .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2009 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Silva, J.L., Marks, L.D., Cherry, K.E. (2009). The Psychology Behind Helping and Prosocial Behaviors: An Examination from Intention to Action. In: Cherry, K. (eds) Lifespan Perspectives on Natural Disasters. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0393-8_11

Download citation