Multilevel Approach to Study of Helping Behavior Can Facilitate
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SCHROEDER AR PSYCHOLOGY PROSOCIAL HELPING PANNIER DOVIDIO
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A multilevel perspective may be the key to a more comprehensive
understanding of the broad subject of helpful behavior and what
motivates people to act helpfully in different types of
situations, according to a University of Arkansas professor of
psychology, and his colleagues.
Newswise Would you help a stranded motorist on the side of a
busy highway? Would you contribute to a relief fund for the
tsunami victims? Would you work with your colleagues to complete
an important project? A multilevel perspective may be the key to
a more comprehensive understanding of the broad subject of
helpful behavior and what motivates people to act helpfully in
different types of situations, according to David A. Schroeder,
a University of Arkansas professor of psychology, and his
Schroeders research paper, Prosocial Behavior: Multilevel
Perspectives, is one of the pieces featured in this years
Annual Review of Psychology. He was joined by three other
researchers from around the country: Louis A. Pannier of the
Karmanos Cancer Institute and the department of Family Medicine,
Wayne State University, Detroit, and the Research Center for
Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; John
F. Dovidio of the University of Connecticut psychology
department; and Jane A. Piliavin of the University of Wisconsin,
Madison, sociology department.
The researchers identified three levels of analysis of the
domain of prosocial, or helping, behavior. Studying the
evolutionary processes and personality differences that
determine whether a person will act helpfully are factors
operating at the micro level. Studying the relationship between
helpers and those in need and the situational context in which
help might be given is seen as investigation at the meso level
of analysis. Prosocial actions such a volunteering or
cooperation that occur within the context of groups and large
organizations are at the macro level. Identifying the common as
well as the unique factors that affect helping behavior across
these levels can provide new ways of understanding why people
act in ways that benefit others.
According to Schroeder, significant research has been done at
the level of helping behavior and bystander intervention, but
much less work has been done with regard to reasons why people
show concern for others and what factors bring people together
for some common good.
Its as if everybody was looking at the interpersonal trees of
helping instead of trying to see the bigger forest of prosocial
behavior, Schroeder said.
The researchers advocate a broader understanding of helping
behavior by focusing more attention on the causes of helpful
actions. The factors that often lead to helping, such as
personality differences, egoistic and altruistic motives,
cost-reward calculations, and responsiveness to situational
demands, are not always consciously accessible. Studying
implicit cognitive processes that immediately precede social
behaviors may help in developing a more comprehensive
understanding of when and why people do or do not act helpfully.
Though research has shown that in some cases, humans can be
purely altruistic, Schroeder said, most helping is done for
So why do people help? In some cases it is because they dont
want to hear people screaming and crying anymore, he said.
Most of us help others because it makes us feel better, or to
avoid feeling bad, or for the external rewards, such as praise
or tokens of appreciation.
The researchers also suggest that helping, cooperation and
volunteering should be considered as parts of a spectrum of
helping behavior, rather than thinking about these actions as
separate and distinct forms of social behavior.
Studies of organizational citizenship, volunteerism and ways to
promote cooperation can benefit people in nonprofit
organizations, management positions and business settings.
We need to look at the social dilemmas people must face:
Should I do something just for me or something that will help
my entire group? Schroeder said. If I back off and let others
do the work, we call that free riding.
An example, he pointed out, would be listening to National
Public Radio every day, but not contributing under the
assumption that other members of the public will contribute.
The researchers recommended that future research investigate the
contribution of helping action to ongoing interpersonal and
intergroup relations for example, as integral components of
forgiveness, key elements of reconciliation and a means to
reduce prejudice and discrimination.
Schroeder and the three other researchers have been meeting
regularly for more than 20 years, two or three times annually to
tackle psychological questions, and feeding off of each others
unique experiences to turn out research papers or books. About
10 years ago, they published The Psychology of Helping and
Altruism: Problems and Puzzles. Later this year they hope to
see their second book published, Prosocial Behavior: Helping,
Volunteering and Cooperation. The new book is based on this
research and will build and expand on their new multilevel
Ian Pitchford PhD CBiol MIBiol