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The Social Psychology of Good

On empathy, altruism, and pro-social behavior

H. Colleen Sinclair

on 26 February 2013

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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. But... 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)
People leave more when overwhelmed by distress
Helping can fail Plus, we seem to be "hard-wired" for empathy http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/education/body/mirror-neurons.html Why would we need to feel what others feel if it only mattered what we felt? Empathy-Altruism Putting the other before
the self as the motive & other's welfare the ultimate goal Empathy-Induction 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 to other's suffering, help more in life generally.) Eisenberg et al. 2004 Plus... 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. Mathur et al. 2010
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