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The Social Psychology of Good

On empathy, altruism, and pro-social behavior

Dr. H. C. Sinclair

on 26 October 2018

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Transcript of The Social Psychology of Good

Empathy and the Social Psychology of Pro-Social Behavior
What is Empathy?
The ability to adopt the perspective of another, experiencing what they are experiencing.
And an essential ingredient for altruism?
Egoists vs. Altruists
Sociobiological Theory
The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
Do we help to help ourselves or others?
Why help?
To help me survive
To make myself feel better
So ultimately, it helps me to help you
Because you did it first
Because it feels good
Group Selection
Kin Selection
Sexual Selection
“I would give up my life for 2 brothers or 8 cousins.” –JBS Hildane, Evolutionary Biologist
Burnstein et al. (1994)
Preferential helping of relatives in trouble
Do what we need to in order to attain (or maintain) group inclusion --> facilitates our immediate and genetic survival
Helping is sexy
Philips et al. (2010) had 70 identical and 87 non-identical female twin pairs complete questionnaires relating to their own levels of altruism (e.g. "I have given money to charity") and how desirable they found this in potential mates (e.g. "Once dived into a river to save someone from drowning").
Those higher on altruism preferred this trait in mates, but also...
They predicted that altruistic individuals would have mated at a greater frequency in ancestral populations and found this.
"We found evidence for this in that 67% of the covariance in the phenotypic correlation between the two scales was associated with significant genetic effects."
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day...
Aknin et al. (2013)
Positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others was found in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006-2008 Gallup World Poll (n= 234,917), even after controlling for other factors.
Plus, in several experiments the researchers compared responses from individuals who wrote about a time they had either spent money on themselves or on others, after which they were asked to report how happy they felt. Can you guess who scored higher?
In another experiment, 207 university students in Canada and South Africa reported higher levels of well-being after purchasing a goody bag for a sick child rather than buying one for themselves.
Physiologically Reinforced
Moll et al. (2006) set up an experiment where subjects were able to anonymously donate money to a charity or to choose not to and used an fMRI to monitor their decisions.
When subjects donated, the part of their brains that was activated was its reward center (e.g., dopamine), or the mesolimbic pathway.
In addition, donating engaged the part of the brain that has to do with bonding behavior. A hormone, oxytocin, was released that increases trust and cooperation.
Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin make up the "Happiness Trifecta."
Helping happens outside of kin & groups
Even when no anticipated benefit to oneself
Even in the face of substantial costs (e.g., heroism)
Meta-analyses of the negative state relief hypothesis have argued the effect does not have sizeable support (Carlson & Miller, 1987)
Helping can fail (no relief - more harm)
People leave more when overwhelmed by distress
Plus, we seem to be "hard-wired" for empathy
Why would we need to feel what others feel if it only mattered what we felt?
Putting the other before
the self as the motive & other's welfare the ultimate goal
Even if I could get out of it
Even when I won't know if I helped
Even if you break the rules
I'll help...
Evidence for the Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
Try to
take an objective perspective
, being as objective as possible about what has happened to this student and how it has affected her life. Try not to let yourself get caught up in imagining what this student has been through and how she feels as a result. Just listen objectively to the information presented in the broadcast.
Try to
take the perspective of the student being interviewed,
imagining how she is feeling about what has happened and how it has affected her life. Try not to concern yourself with attending to all the information presented. Just imagine how this student feels about her situation.
+ Concern: Give "partner" a need
Anticipated feedback: None vs. Response (vs. no information)
Volunteered 3+ hours (Y/N)
Batson et al., 1991
And what if my chances of knowing whether it helped vary...
"We reasoned that if feeling empathy for a person in need evokes egoistic motivation to gain empathic joy, then there would be a linear relation between the likelihood the needy person would be better and choosing to hear about this person again when empathy-induced...If, on the other hand, empathically aroused individuals are altruistically concerned for the needy person's welfare, then—overall—there should be a main effect for empathy." (Batson et al., 1991, pg. 419)
So they manipulated whether an expert overseeing the volunteer efforts estimated a 20%, 50%, or 80% likelihood that by the time they could meet the recipient their situation would be improved. Then they measured desire to meet the recipient.
Integrating Evolution and Empathy
So what the _____ happened here?
Let's not forget about the situation
Latane & Darley (1970)
5 Steps to Intervention
If it was just about relieving personal distress then if I could "escape" the situation with little consequence I should choose that over helping. (30+ studies)
I'll even take a shock for you...
Meet Elaine
She has to be the "learner"
She is terrified about being "shocked"
Would you trade places with her?
In fact, personal distress --> escape, not helping
Psychophysiological evidence shows that if activation of the mirror neurons leads to individuals experiencing extreme levels of emotional arousal (i.e., as evidenced by high levels of heart rate and skin conductance), they withdraw. They don't help.

Whereas those whose heart rate drops and skin conductance is low - those having an empathic reaction - help. (And those who characteristically exhibit this response - are High in Dispositional Empathy - to other's suffering, help more in life generally.)
Eisenberg et al. 2004
A new study in "NeuroImage" shows that decisions to help ingroup and outgroup members both activate the anterior cingulate cortex and bilateral insula, but only helping ingroup members required higher levels of medial prefrontal cortex activity (e.g., associated with recognition of social identity/self identity). Potentially explaining why we go to greater lengths for ingroup members - because they are extensions of the self.

The self didn't factor in so much for intergroup prosocialty. So can it be selfish?
Mathur et al. 2010
In fact, neuropsych studies show that one of the areas that activates when deciding when to help is the part of our brain associated with determining is this person a member of my ingroup or not? Who are they in relation to me?
Reciprocal Altruism
82-91% would when empathy high
Empathetic Joy Hypothesis
Supercooperators at the
genetic level
Direct & Indirect
This part of the brain DOES NOT activate when people help outgroup members, indicating that the "self" is not involved in giving aid to outgroup members?
A. Bilateral insula
B. Anterior Cingulate Cortex
C. Mesolimbic reward system
D. Medial Prefrontal Cortex
Heidi, a doctor, volunteers long hours for three days straight at the LSU stadium as people are being life-flighted in from New Orleans post-Katrina. She does it because she feels it is the right thing to do. What is her primary motivation for helping?

A. Career
B. Social
C. Value-Expressive
D. Ego-Defensive
And that's not all
Condition 1: Participant observes one partner receiving painful shocks, thereby eliciting an empathic response in the participant (empathy group).
Condition 2: Participant observes a partner sacrificing money to save the participant from receiving painful shocks, thereby eliciting a desire in the participant to return the kind behavior (reciprocity group).

Add in second partner who does neither = control
DV: Money allocation task. They chose between maximizing a partner’s monetary payoff by reducing their own (prosocial behavior) or holding on to the money at a cost to the other person (selfish behavior). fMRI tracks decision process using dynamic causal modeling (DCM).
Empathy-path basic
Hein et al. 2016
From an early age...where is the selfish motive?
And helping exists even among those without a symbolic self...or even an objective self.
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