Helping others, but why so?

I think we can universally agree that helping another person is a good thing, something that should be rewarded and gain recognition from others as a commendable action, but in this case what limits our motivation to help one another? Why don’t we leap at the chance to help another when they need it?

Well one of the major factors is that we are motivated to look after our own safety, and so seeing another in trouble, but in a situation that would risk ourselves means we are less likely to help (Burt, Banks & Williams, 2014).

Another argued effect is the bystander effect, having a number of people watching has been argued to cause us to worry about the embarrassment of trying to help but failing (Zoccola et al, 2011) however having an audience has also been stated as a dual-edged blade (Garcia et al, 2009) as in situations where our behaviour will be accountable to us and public self-awareness is raised we are indeed more likely to help (Van Bommel et al, 2012).

On this point the accountability of the victim works to either motivate us to, or motivate us not to help as if the victim is possible to blame for their situation we are motivated not to help them, but if we feel they are not in any way to blame we are more motivated to help (Kogut, 2011).

Looking at a more selfish view it’s been argued that we cannot simply help another unless we are motivated by a feeling that helping them will fulfill some kind of satisfaction within ourselves (Cryder, Loewenstein & Seltman, 2013). It’s also been shown that if being asked specifically for help, and it is labelled as being high priority we are more motivated to help (Lewis et al, 2004) and personal high empathy has been shown to make us more motivated to help as well (Paciello et al, 2013). Exercise has also been shown to increase motivation to help (Sterling & Gaertner, 1984) as the higher arousal promoted bystander action, however this effect was reversed if the scenario was ambiguous and therefore bystanders were less likely to act.

In terms of charity it’s been argued by some that it’s related to envy (Garay & Mori, 2011) as the argument stands that we donate to charity in an attempt to stop those better than us looking so much better than we are, motivated by a desire to knock them down a peg so to speak. Such arguments conflict with others that claim charity donation is motivated by Moral Salience however (Joireman & Duell, 2007) and it’s been shown that advertising awareness charities can have a detrimental effect on motivation to help said charities when awareness is already relatively high (Smith & Schwarz, 2012).

Looking over this there’s a good number of reasons why we do not act to help one another on a regular basis but it appears to be because we have some sort of inbuilt self-preservation that can be overridden by not only self awareness and accountability but our envy and believe that it would make ourselves look better than those we are envious of.

Have a think of scenarios you’ve been in where you could have helped someone, can you remember the reasons why you did/didn’t? Hopefully this blog has helped you understand why people may or may not be motivated to help others, and perhaps the knowledge can be used to encourage more people to help.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day.

– – – – – References – – – – –

Burt, C. D., Banks, M. D., & Williams, S. D. (2014). Safety risks associated with helping others. Safety Science62, 136-144.

Cryder, C. E., Loewenstein, G., & Seltman, H. (2013). Goal gradient in helping behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology49(6), 1078-1083.

Garay, J., & Móri, T. F. (2011). Is envy one of the possible evolutionary roots of charity?. Biosystems106(1), 28-35.

Garcia, S. M., Weaver, K., Darley, J. M., & Spence, B. T. (2009). Dual effects of implicit bystanders: Inhibiting vs. facilitating helping behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology19(2), 215-224.

Joireman, J., & Duell, B. (2007). Self-transcendent values moderate the impact of mortality salience on support for charities. Personality and individual differences43(4), 779-789.

Kogut, T. (2011). Someone to blame: When identifying a victim decreases helping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology47(4), 748-755.

Lewis, C. E., Thompson, L. F., Wuensch, K. L., Grossnickle, W. F., & Cope, J. G. (2004). The impact of recipient list size and priority signs on electronic helping behavior. Computers in human behavior20(5), 633-644.

Paciello, M., Fida, R., Cerniglia, L., Tramontano, C., & Cole, E. (2012). High cost helping scenario: The role of empathy, prosocial reasoning and moral disengagement on helping behavior. Personality and Individual Differences.

Smith, R. W., & Schwarz, N. (2012). When promoting a charity can hurt charitable giving: A metacognitive analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology,22(4), 558-564.

Sterling, B., & Gaertner, S. L. (1984). The attribution of arousal and emergency helping: A bidirectional process. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,20(6), 586-596.

van Bommel, M., van Prooijen, J. W., Elffers, H., & Van Lange, P. A. (2012). Be aware to care: Public self-awareness leads to a reversal of the bystander effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology48(4), 926-930.

Zoccola, P. M., Green, M. C., Karoutsos, E., Katona, S. M., & Sabini, J. (2011). The embarrassed bystander: Embarrassability and the inhibition of helping. Personality and Individual Differences51(8), 925-929.

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