Identify Some of the Factors That Make People Help Others.
Identify some of the factors that make people help others. Who helps the most, and in what cases (whom) are they especially likely to help? Illustrate your answer with examples. Giedrius Statkus Department of Psychology, Keynes College, CT2 7NP Identify some of the factors that make people help others.
Who helps the most, and in what cases (whom) are they especially likely to help? Illustrate your answer with examples. Many different factors have been shown to influence people’s willingness to help others.
The motive behind certain type of help can be certain rewards for helping however other types of help do not always appear to have a clear motive. This was noted by Comte (1875 as cited in Batson & Shaw 1991, Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) who studied the question of helping others, philosophically and suggests that there are two key types of help displayed by people. He describes these as either Egoistic Helping (EH) or Altruistic Helping (AH).
The former refers to the type of help where an individual is clearly aware of a reward for performing the help, such as can be seen in some volunteers workers, whose clear reward is experience and recommendations. The latter however refers to situations where an individual’s willingness to help is unaided by any conscious reward. AH behaviour can be seen in such examples as helping a broken down stranger fix a car tyre on a road (Pomzal & Clore, 1973 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011).
The factors influencing the latter type of help are the ones mainly considered throughout this essay. However these factors have a varied effect on different people, this variation can be based on gender, age and other individual differences. It has been suggested that one major factor influencing the willingness of people to perform AH is empathy (Batson, Batson, Slingsby, Harrell, Peekna & Todd, 1991). The theory suggests that individuals witnessing someone in need of help, as they are displaying distress or pain, will experience similar feelings themselves.
This is supported by many studies (Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) however of key importance are studies conducted via observing the process of empathy in the brain using Functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) (Singer, Seymour, O’Doherty, Kaube, Dolan & Firth, 2004). In their study participants were subjected to electric shocks while undergoing an fMRI scan, after that they had to watch as their spouses undergo the electric shocks. The scans showed that the brain’s responses were similar, for both conditions, and that witnessing the shocks and receiving them affected the same areas of the brain.
Other studies have also found empathy between emotional states such as happiness or sadness and other situations (Singer, Seymour, O’Doherty, Kaube, Dolan & Firth, 2004). Therefore this confirms Batson’s et al. (1991) suggestion that if an individual is witnessing someone in distress, he also experiences some distress and therefore helping that person would be the fastest way to relieve it. There are many other factors playing roles in influencing willingness to help, however many of them may also be explained via empathy. As these other factors may increase or decrease empathy which could result in increased willingness to help.
The fact that reward in AH is not obvious is not to say that it does not exist. As mentioned previously the relieving of distress may be one form of reward experienced through AH. Other rewards to be considered may be the need for praise or some sort of award (Batson, et al. 1988 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011). Another motivation may be fear of punishment, often in the form of social disproval, the fear of people knowing you could of helped, but did not. This can aid understanding of AH on an evolutionary and survival basis.
As in some cases AH may mean less resources or putting oneself in danger (Dawkins 1988 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) it can be said that such behaviour is counterproductive to survival. Except in clear cases of close family AH, where the help would favour the survival of the helping individual’s genes either way. However modern human survival, and therefore chance of reproduction, is highly dependent on social acceptance (Coie, Dodge & Coppotelli, 1982). Therefore avoidance of punishment, in the form of social disproval is often a sufficient reward for AH.
Empathy can be seen as a major aspect of other factors influencing willingness to help too, for example it has been shown that people feel more empathy for people similar (Frans, 2008) and are more willing to help based on similarity between them and the person needing help, such as similar clothes (Eimswiller, Deux & Willts, 1971 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011), personal values (Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley & Birch, as cited in Batson & Shaw, 1991) and other features. This may be because people are more likely to experience empathy for people who are ore like them instead of someone who is very different. This can be seen in Batson’s et al. (1981 as cited in Batson & Shaw, 1991) study where participants who believed a person undergoing electric shocks held personal values that were very different to the participants’ values, were less likely to take the victim’s place and receive shocks instead of them. This is supported by the green beard theory, a term coined by Dawkins (1976 as cited in West & Gardener, 2010) in reference to a theoretical gene that would encode the information of a green beard and make green bearded people more likely to help others with a green beard.
In this theory the green beard is an example of an obvious visual feature. Although just a theoretical principal for which the relevant genes have only been observed in the study of micro-organisms (West & Gardener, 2010) and other far less genetically complex, than humans, life forms (Fostner, Wensler & Ratnier, 2006). It is suggested that a much more complex system may be a viable genetic explanation for the way in which AH is influenced by people with similar features.
Although the theory is criticised in its current state as it has been said that one allele would be incapable of encoding and identifying all the relevant information necessary (Henrich 2001). This however led others (Jansen & Baalen, 2006) to suggest that, instead, a number of genes could encode some features of appearance, or a “visable tag” (West & Gardener, 2010, p. 1344), and a separate, gene would encode the ability to recognise similarity and influence AH when it is recognised. For example it has been shown that people empathise more with close members of their family (Frans, 2007).
As well as being more willing to help them (Burnstein, Crandall & Kitayama, 1994). This was especially true for close members of the family such as siblings. The willingness to help was found to decrease as the family ties grew weaker. In all cases people were three times more likely to help close family members such as siblings than nephews and cousins, they were even less likely to help strangers or friends. This was especially true if the sibling in question is a monozygotic twin of the individual (Burnstein, Crandall & Kitayama, 1994).
The willingness to help for un-identical twins was considerably lower, by up to half as willing, suggesting that AH is an important behaviour for successful evolution and survival as it favours identical genes. This staggering difference between identical gene siblings and dizygotic twins could also be related to the green beard theory mentioned earlier. As the perfect visual tag for an altruistic gene to identify would, in the case of monozygotic twins, be a completely identical appearance. AH was also found to be dependent on age (Baumaister & Bushman, 2011).
For example Burnstein et al. (1994) found that people’s willingness to help young children of age 1 was identical to the amount of willingness seen at age 25. Overall, willingness to help was found to quickly reach a peak at the age of 10 and then steadily decrease as people get older. For the final recorded age, of 75, willingness to help had decreased by a quarter when compared to age 1. People’s health was also noted as an important factor in influencing willingness to help. It was found that people are more willing to help healthy individuals than those suffering from ill-health.
This may be due to survival reasons as healthy individuals are much more likely to help the person in return and therefore increase their rate of survival. In cases of AH, it can be said that, the evaluation of ability to reciprocate may be performed unconsciously. The same concept applies to old and very young individuals who are also less able to reciprocate the help they receive. The attractiveness of an individual is also a recognised factor in one’s willingness to help (Harrel, 1978 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011). This is often hard to explain in regards to evolution and survival theories.
One aspect considered is that attractiveness may be evaluated as health, as attractiveness and health evaluations have been shown to positively correlate (Taylor and Brown, 1988). However a study by Juhnke et al. (2001) found that attractiveness does not necessarily rely on physical features. He found people dressed more attractively are also more likely to receive help. A possible critique of this finding could be that in this case the more attractive people were seen as richer, and therefore their ability to reciprocate would be higher.
This would however contradict Burnstein’s et al. (1994) finding, which demonstrates that people would be significantly less likely to help rich people than poor people across every situation. And although based on participants’ conscious evaluation of their willingness to help, the results are consistent across all participants and therefore suggest that Juhnke’s et al. (2001) findings were related to attractiveness, if not as the sole factor than at the very least more than the effect of a ealthy appearance. This finding is also more supported by the survival via reproduction theory since in some cases it appeared to have a sex specific effect, (Pomzal & Core, 1973 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) where male participants were found to be more likely to help females than males, especially if the female is attractive. They also report that males are more willing to help than females overall which is an important finding as this slightly contradicts Batson’s et al. 1991) theory, of empathy being the most important factor in AH as Davis (1980) has pointed out that females display a much higher level of empathy across many different AH related situations. This may be related to Dawkin’s (1989 as cited in Baumaister & Bushman, 2011) theory. He proposes that willingness to help is directly affected by the loss incurred in the process of helping. Therefore although women may want to help more than males, as they feel higher empathy, they may be prevented by fear of loss.
This is because most AH requires a form of loss of resources, time or putting oneself in danger (Batson & Shaw, 1991) as only in cases of unconscious and reflex powered reactions are people willing to put their survival over the person in need of help. This sort of behaviour is most often seen in combat situations and almost never occurs if people are able to consider the threat posed to them (Batson & Shaw, 1991) Individuals’ willingness to help people is affected by many factors as discussed. This can be seen in many forms.
Some forms of help are motivated by feelings of distress caused through empathy. This coupled together with unconscious reward seeking and punishment avoidance influences people in making the decision of whether to help or not. Although empathy may be the predominant factor it is also important to mention that it is heavily influenced by other factors such as age, gender, family ties and physical or mental similarities. However empathy at times is affected by other factors such as the cost of helping someone.
For example men are less likely to be helped, however are more likely to be willing to help than females. Females, although experiencing higher empathy and therefore maybe higher willingness to help are said to be more aware of fear of loss. This may also be influenced by the fact that males feel higher social expectations, to help, than females. Although another reason may simply be survival as the people most likely to be helped are often the same people who are most capable of reciprocating the help.
In the case of 10 year old children and young adults receiving more help than elderly people or young children it may be because they can be said to be evaluated as having more chance of reciprocating this help. Same can be said for the health bias influencing willingness to help. Healthy people are more likely to receive help as they are more likely to have the ability to return the help. The fact that attractive people are more likely to be helped than less attractive people is thought to be highly linked to peoples’ willingness to help healthy people.
Helping close family is also affected by health although the predominant factor here is the closeness of the family relationship. Children and parents are as willing to help each other as siblings who are significantly more willing to help each other than they are willing to help nephews, cousins or other family members. The only group more likely to help each other are identical twins, this evidence fits in with the selection of kin theory of evolution and therefore is most likely based on survival of the genes.
Genes appear to be the most likely explanation for the fact that people are very likely to help individuals who appear similar to them. As suggested by the theory that certain genes may help their own survival by creating visual tags in people who share the same genes or by encoding recognition of similarity. This visual tag would be recognised by the other individuals carrying the same genes and therefore AH would be increased.
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