Altruism is a prosocial act that is done for someone else, perhaps a stranger, and results in the helper losing something. Prosocial behaviors may be helping, sharing, cooperating, and assisting a stranger, but it becomes an altruistic act when the helper performs the act to benefit someone else even when it costs them. To determine if a prosocial act is truly altruistic, one would need to know the intent or expectations of the helper at the time the service was performed.
When an individual assists with the intent or expectation of being rewarded, it is not an altruistic act, but is still considered prosocial. Empathy and personal distress may lead an individual to display prosocial behavior, but this act may not be altruistic. When asked to imagine oneself in the other person’s situation, this can elicit empathy, and the individual is more likely to act on those empathetic emotions to display prosocial behaviors and assist.
By acting on empathy the prosocial behavior may result in an altruistic act, but if the individual acts on personal distress, then altruism is not likely to result. Remember, if there is personal gain by performing the prosocial act, it is not altruism. When we witness another person or animal in need of help, we ay experience personal distress and search for ways to alleviate that distress. In many cases, we can alleviate that distress by helping the person or animal in need. However, personal distress is also alleviated if there is an easy way for us to escape responsibility.
Diffusion of responsibility is common with the bystander apathy effect. The bystander apathy effect is when an individual is faced with another person who is in distress with the knowledge that there are other people available to assist, but is less likely to help than if they were the only person around to assist. So, what this means is that if we see someone in need, but there are other people around that can help, it is easier to dismiss any personal distress or responsibility than if we were the only person around to help.
Personal distress seems to generate self-centered egoistical motivation, and in the absence of perspective taking manipulations, or difficult escape, undermines prosocial action” (Habashi et al. , 2016). When a person experiences a high level of personal distress, that person will make more self-centered decisions, such as finding an easy escape and diffusing responsibility. Antisocial behaviors are the opposite of prosocial behaviors. A prosocial act is done to help someone in need, whereas an antisocial act is not done to help, but to hurt.
Just as it is important to know to know intent or expectations to determine altruism, many social scientists strive to understand the intensions behind aggressive behaviors and assaults. There are two types of aggression: instrumental aggression and emotional aggression. Emotional aggression is simply aggression that is due to an emotional arousal, whereas instrumental aggression would be assaults that are carried out o obtain money, social status, and enhance self-identity (Berkowitz). Acting on aggression can be inhibited by the individual through self-restraint, but the greater the emotional arousal is the lower the inhibitions will be.
Although aggression may be acted out due to an external reward, it may also be due to personal distress. Unpleasant situations may create negative emotions such as anger, hostility, and even violence (Berkowitz). When inhibitions are low and emotions run high, it is more likely that the individual will act aggressively. Even if we train our minds to not act on the ggressive emotions that arise, we may still get caught up in the rush of emotions. If we get carried away by an intense unpleasant situation, we may not stop to think about the consequences of our actions and we may act impulsively.
Aggressive behaviors can be reinforced or encouraged just by watching others act aggressively. We see the reward in acting aggressively, so when we experience emotional arousal, we release the aggression through violent outbursts. A risk factor that may predict aggression is economic deprivation. “There is pretty good evidence that economic deprivation can contribute o spouse battering, child abuse, and homicides” (Berkowitz). Hostility and violence are not caused by poverty, but poverty is viewed as a risk factor that increases the likelihood of antisocial actions.
According to Berkowitz, the probability that a risk factor, such as poverty, will result in an increase in violence is small, but a “significant number of people may be affected when the population is large enough”. After reading Berkowitz’s chapter regarding aggression, it seems that aggression has a negative connotation that goes along with it. I am not arguing that aggression does not lead to violence, hurt, and destruction, ut I think that there are times when aggression can lead to altruism.
An example of this is the news story told of a 56-year old woman who jumped on the back of a 28-year old man while he was attacking a police office (Toohey, 2017). Vickie Williams- Tillman of Baton Rouge was driving by the scene of a police officer making an arrest, when she witnessed the assailant resist arrest, and begin assaulting the officer (Earl, 2017). She stopped her vehicle, called 9-1-1, got out of her car, and leaped on the back of the man assaulting the officer. Vickie’s actions were ggressive and her intent was not to help, but to potentially hurt the assailant.
Although Vickie’s actions towards the young man were aggressive and harmful, her actions were also altruistic because she risked her safety to help the officer in need. I believe the form of aggression Vickie performed is emotional aggression. However, Habashi et al. states that when given an easy way of escaping and alleviating emotional distress, an individual is less likely to help. Vickie was in her vehicle and she had already called 9-1-1, so she could have left the scene instead of getting out of her vehicle and putting herself in arm’s way.
The Big Five factors of personality have been taken in to account when studying prosocial behaviors. The Big Five dimensions of personality are hypothetical, or empirical, concepts that make up our personality, and are extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness (Habashi et al. , 2016). Agreeableness and neuroticism are predictors of prosocial behavior. Someone who is high in agreeableness may be view as more forgiving, helping, thoughtful, and generous, whereas someone who is neurotic may have high anxiety and experience more personal distress.
Agreeable people are more sensitive to prosocial behaviors”, tend to “judge anti-social behaviors” harshly, and they are more likely to perform prosocial acts (footnote). Someone who rates high in agreeableness is more likely to experience empathetic emotions than someone who is low in agreeableness. In the study by Habashi et al. , empathetic emotions can be manipulated and empathy can be increased, but the manipulation has less of an effect on those who are high in agreeableness. The study suggests that this may be due to those who are high in agreeableness already experience more mpathy than those with low agreeableness.
So, the study to manipulate a more empathetic response reminded those with low agreeableness to perform a task they do not usually perform, whereas those with high agreeableness do it automatically. Prosocial behaviors are helping behaviors that can be viewed as selfless, or selfish. Anti-social behaviors, such as aggression, are behaviors performed with the intent to hurt or injure another person. Although aggression can lead to violence, I believe that when the aggressive act is done in self- defense for someone else, it can also be altruistic.