Oct 22, 2019 in Research

Prosocial Behavior


This paper explores the development of altruism and prosocial behavior. The paper examines the types of prosocial behavior, the purpose of prosocial action, the principles of altruism, and altruistic motivation. Altruism is the subject of attention of psychologists at all times, being one of the most prominent social factors and interpersonal relationships. The problem of the psychology of helping behavior has become an actual as it addresses the issues of altruism as one of the determinants of helping behavior. The issue of the relation of social altruism and selfishness, philanthropy and misanthropy arises with all sharpness because there is a greater risk of loss of a sense of humanity. The paper focuses on the definition of prosocial behavior, the characteristics of prosocial personality, social context, and motives for prosocial behavior. Generally, prosocial behavior means a set of actions that are made by one person to another and for his benefit. Prosocial motives enforce people’s helping behavior and altruism, which can be stimulated by both personalities’ traits (social responsibility, empathy, locus of control, and faith in the justice of the world order) and social context.


In the realities of the modern society with its increasing cruelty, immoral and antisocial behavior, a special attention should be given to the maintenance and development of such forms of positive social interaction of individuals that are aimed at cooperation, assistance and support in difficult situations. The phenomenon of social behavior and its characteristics is one of the most challenging areas of concern of social psychology. The very concept is more concerned with trying to understand some of the specific forms of human behavior in society that are related to the provision of grant aid, assault on the dignity of others, and prejudice against them. These behaviors cannot be derived or explained in terms of any rational logic. However, they are distributed, and their results are felt by many people. Prosocial behavior is a very broad concept, which includes actions that are positively assessed by the society. Prosocial behavior is mostly influenced by particular characteristics of an individual, such as social responsibility, empathy, locus of control, and faith in the justice of the world order, and social context, which define general prosocial motives.

Definition of Prosocial Behavior

In general, prosocial behavior characterizes the actions that are committed by one individual to another and for his benefit. This definition is relevant in the case the help is also benefiting. All actions that are targeted at helping other people are the kinds of prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is a behavior that has positive social impacts and contributions to the physical and psychological well-being of others. The object of prosocial behavior is not abstract organizations or people in general, but specific people, who face particular kinds of problems (poor, hungry, victims of natural disasters, etc.). Similar concepts (but not synonymous) are ‘helping behavior’, ‘support’, ‘altruism’, ‘charity’, ‘cooperation’, and much more. The altruistic behavior suggests undivided commitment, renunciation of self-interest in favor of others. Helping behavior suggests the needs and concerns of the other person and promotion of their successful resolution. The terms of ‘helping behavior’ and ‘altruism’ describe the interaction between people, who assist and those, who accept help. The people, who provide care, always lose something (money, time, health, etc.), while those, who accept it, always gain something that is more expensive for them than spent by the first ones. All three terms (‘prosocial behavior’, ‘helping behavior’ and ‘altruism’) define the same kind of behavior that is aimed at the benefit of another person, but vary, depending on the motives that underline the action in each case. Altruistic behavior means behavior that is aimed at the benefit of other people and is not associated with any external rewards. Altruistic behavior can be viewed as a special kind of the prosocial one. Altruistic orientation has generally humane character. The principle of altruism plays a significant role in shaping the moral character of the individual.

Prosocial Personality

The influence of personality on prosocial behavior is particularly high in those cases when it comes to long-term activities, such as working as a volunteer for a charitable organization or donor. However, in the case of extemporaneous prosocial behavior, a set of qualities of prosocial personality is also considered a crucial factor. Both of these types of prosocial behavior are influenced by the same personal characteristics. Prosocial behavior is linked to the set of six motives for volunteering: “career enhancement, learning new skills, social interaction, escape from negative feelings, personal development, and expressing prosocial values”. Personal determinants of prosocial behavior include social responsibility and empathy, as well as internal locus of control. Lebowitz and Dovidio state that emphatic concern is represented by senses of compassion and sympathy and “motivates altruistic behavior with the primary goal of improving the other person’s welfare”. While social responsibility and internal locus of control contribute to the emergence of the need to assist, high empathy helps to better understand the needs of others.

Another property of inherent prosocial personality is the belief in the justice of the world order. It expresses the view that in general, people get what they deserve. Undeserved suffering of others is an active threat to this position. To approve it, there are different behavioral and cognitive strategies, including efforts to alleviate the suffering of victims by providing care or diminishing the value of the losses. Both strategies are quite effective in restoring faith in the justice of the world order, because they reduce the idea of injustice of suffering. From a theoretical point of view, the relationship between faith in the justice of the world order and prosocial behavior depends on the expected effectiveness of prosocial behavior. If it proves to be effective (in the sense that the problem is resolved), the belief in the justice of the world order reinforces the desire to help. However, the same conviction may have a negative effect on prosocial behavior, if the victim's suffering will continue, as continued suffering undermines faith in the justice of the world order, and the best strategy for the conservation of this belief becomes a decline in the value of the victim. Thus, the model of prosocial personality is represented by three components: prosocial motivation, prosocial traits and faith in the justice of the world order. Prosocial motivation and prosocial traits only have a positive effect on prosocial behavior in a variety of situations, whereas the effect of faith in the justice of the world order depends on whether a person believes that assistance can completely eliminate injustice.


Social Context of Prosocial Behavior

The influence of social context on prosocial behavior is as considerable as certain personality traits. Beardman argues that “certain circumstances are relevant to the likelihood of helping behavior”. Traditionally, contextual aspects include socialization, the influence of situational factors, gender and cross-cultural differences. Social behavior is influenced by factors that are inalienable and inherent to social systems. There are cultural norms, values and practices (rituals) that are shared by the whole community as a whole, mutual expectation between the carriers of social roles, and the rights and responsibilities that are based on tradition and on general ethical principles, such as the Declaration of Human Rights and many other documents.

Certainly, the foundation of prosocial behavior is laid in the family. Through numerous examples, empathic attitude, providing models of behavior in social contexts, a child forms an idea of ​​how and why it should behave and provide assistance. The closer family ties are, the higher level of commitment to assist and sense of appreciation are developed in the child. In the process of family dialogues, parents do not just articulate social norms and values, but also provide models for their implementation.

At the same time, the actualization of prosocial, as well as any other social behavior, is always realized in a specific situational context. An essential role in maintaining the prosocial behavior is played by the values and norms of the society. The norms of social responsibility prescribe to help people, who are in a difficult position. Prosocial behavior can be regarded as a direct consequence of a sense of responsibility, which is experienced in a social situation. Situational control, which means that the probability of intervention in a particular situation is considerably influenced by social conditions and terms of the immediate environment, is very important for prosocial behavior.

Motives of Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior serves several purposes: improve own well-being, improve social status and gain the approval of others, support the self-image, cope with moods and emotions. Altruistic motivation is always an internal value-semantic motivation, which is explained by the concept of the semantic motif. Among the internal motivational mechanisms, two motives should be distinguished. They are the motive of moral obligation and the motive of sympathy. The motive of moral obligation towards altruistic action is the result of regulatory education of the individual and is based on the altruistic internalization of social norms, which are transformed into internal imperatives, personal and meaningful regulators of activities. Leading sense of motivation of this type is a sense of responsibility for actions. The effect of this motif is directly related to the area of ​​moral self-esteem. Its implementation is accompanied by positive feelings of moral satisfaction, self-esteem, and pride.

The motive of sympathy, which is based on education of empathic abilities, is the second and a very significant determinant of altruism. The implementation of the motive of sympathy is impossible without mental setting oneself in the place of a person in need, process of empathy and compassion to him. The motif of sympathy means that the manifestation of sympathy in response to the disastrous state of the other acts as a stable and regular trend behavior.

Moreover, assistants receive indirect benefits. Since the desire to help is encouraged in all human cultures, those people, who help, ennoble their image in the eyes of others. To encourage assistance in situations that do not offer material or genetic remuneration, all human societies provide social reward for help. These social fees generally take the form of increased sympathy and approval. In addition, prosocial actions can also enhance the perceived power and status in the community. The norms of the society often have a strong impact on the behavior. There are two types of social norms. Descriptive norms define what is usually done in a given situation, and injunctive norms define what is approved and not approved. The standards of both types are related to help: people are much more likely to help others when they see good examples of assistance or others approve assistance. The most common norm of help is the norm of social responsibility. It claims that people should help those, who need and depend on the assistance.

Any meaningful action of a person affects his understanding of himself. Prosocial behavior is no exception to this rule. Since prosocial behavior affects the light in which one can see himself, it can be used to control the self-image. Thus, helping behavior can be used to simultaneously increase and confirm one’s self-esteem.


Prosocial behavior means any assistance that is aimed at the welfare of other people. There are different motives of help: moral obligation (duty), request submission, expectation of reward (social recognition), or, conversely, avoidance of punishment. The upper form of prosocial behavior is altruism, which is characterized by the lack of expectation for rewards. It is a consequence of emotional reactions – empathy, which is understood as an affective relationship with another person, ability to take up the emotional life of another person, sharing his experiences. Prosocial behavior is the result of impacts of public moral norms. They are represented by other people's expectations about possible individual’s behavior. Being inextricably linked with the society, a person will behave in accordance with accepted standards even in the absence of observers. Prosocial behavior is prompted by the so-called personal standards, which appears in the form of values. It is determined by the presence of a number of human personality dispositions: compassion, caring, sense of duty, and responsibility. Therefore, prosocial, helping and altruistic behavior is stimulated by a set of prosocial motives, which include the characteristics of prosocial personality (social responsibility, empathy, locus of control, and faith in the justice of the world order), as well as social context.


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