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24.7: Increasing Helping

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    Now that we have a fundamental understanding of the variables that influence the likelihood that we will help others, let’s spend some time considering how we might use this information in our everyday life to try to become more helpful ourselves and to encourage those around us to do the same. In doing so we will make use of many of the principles of altruism that we have discussed in this chapter.

    First, we need to remember that not all helping is based on other-concern—self-concern is important. People help in part because it makes them feel good, and therefore any- thing that we can do to increase the benefits of helping and to decrease the costs of helping would be useful. Consider, for instance, the research of Mark Snyder, who has extensively studied the people who volunteer to help other people who are suffering from AIDS (Snyder & Omoto, 2004; Snyder et al., 2004). To help understand which volunteers were most likely to continue to volunteer over time, Snyder and his colleagues (Omoto & Snyder, 1995) asked the AIDS volunteers to indicate why they volunteered. As you can see in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\), the researchers found that the people indicated that they volunteered for many different reasons, and these reasons fit well with our assumptions about human nature—they involve both self-concern and other-concern.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Reasons for volunteering to Help AIDS victims


    • Because of my humanitarian obligation to help others
    • Because I enjoy helping other people
    • Because I consider myself to be a loving and caring person
    • Because people should do something about issues that are important to them
    • Because of my personal values, convictions, and beliefs


    • To learn more about how to prevent AIDS
    • To learn how to help people with AIDS
    • To learn about how people cope with AIDS
    • To understand AIDS and what it does to people

    Personal Development

    • To get to know people who are similar to myself
    • To meet new people and make new friends
    • To gain experience dealing with emotionally difficult topics
    • To challenge myself and test my skills
    • To learn about myself and my strengths and weaknesses

    Community Concern

    • Because of my sense of obligation to the gay community
    • Because I consider myself an advocate for gay-related issues
    • Because of my concern and worry about the gay community
    • To get to know people in the gay community
    • To help members of the gay community

    Esteem Enhancement

    • To make my life more stable
    • To escape other pressures and stress in my life (e.g., from work, from home)
    • To feel less lonely
    • To feel needed

    Omoto and Snyder (1995) found that the volunteers were more likely to continue their volunteer work if their reasons for volunteering involved self-related activities, such as under- standing, personal development, or esteem enhancement. The volunteers who felt that they were getting something back from their work were likely to stay involved. In addition, Snyder and his colleagues found that people were more likely to continue volunteering when their existing social support networks were weak. This result suggests that some volunteers were using the volunteer opportunity to help them create better social con- nections (Omoto & Snyder, 1995). On the other hand, the volunteers who reported experiencing negative reactions about their helping from their friends and family members, which made them feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, and stigmatized for helping, were also less likely to continue working as volunteers (Snyder et al., 1999).

    These results again show that people will help more if they see it as rewarding. So if you want to get people to help, try to increase the rewards of doing so, for instance by enhancing their mood or by offering incentives. Simple things, such as noticing, praising, and even labeling helpful behavior can be enough. When children are told that they are “kind and helpful children,” they contribute more of their prizes to other children (Grusec et al., 1978). Rewards work for adults too: People were more likely to donate to charity several weeks after they were described by another person as being “gener- ous” and “charitable” people (Kraut, 1973). In short, once we start to think of ourselves as helpful people, self-perception takes over and we continue to help.

    The nations and states that have passed Good Samaritan laws realize the importance of self-interest: If people must pay fines or face jail sentences if they don’t help, then they are naturally more likely to help. And the programs in many schools, businesses, and other institutions that encourage students and workers to volunteer by rewarding them for doing so are also effective in increasing volunteering (Clary, Snyder, Ridge, et al., 1998; Clary, Snyder, & Stoukas, 1998).

    Helping also occurs in part because of other-concern. We are more likely to help people we like and care about, feel similar to, and experience positive emotions with. Therefore, anything we can do to increase our connections with others will likely increase helping. We must work to encourage ourselves, our friends, and our children to interact with others—to help them meet and accept new people and to instill a sense of community and caring in them. These social connections will make us feel closer to others and increase the likelihood we will help them. We must also work to install the appropriate norms in our children. Kids must be taught not to be selfish and to value the norms of sharing and altruism.

    One way to increase our connection with others is to make those people highly salient and personal. Charities and other organizations that seek to promote helping understand this and do the best they can to individualize the people they are asking us to help. When we see a single person suffering, we naturally feel strong emotional responses to that person. And, as we have seen, the emotions that we feel when others are in need are powerful determinants of helping. In fact, Paul Slovic (2007) found that people are simply unable to identify with statistical and abstract descriptions of need because they do not feel emotions for these victims in the same way they do for individuals. They argued that when people seem completely oblivious or numb to the needs of millions of people who are victims of genocide, hurricanes, and other atrocities, it is because the victims are presented as statistics rather than as individual cases. As Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator who executed millions of Russians, put it, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

    We can also use what we have learned about helping in emergency situations to increase the likelihood of responding. Most importantly, we must remember how strongly pluralistic ignorance can influence the interpretation of events and how quickly responsibility can be diffused among the people present at an emergency. Therefore, in emergency situations we must attempt to counteract pluralistic ignorance and diffusion of responsibility by remembering that others do not necessarily know more than we do. Depend on your own interpretation— don’t simply rely on your assumptions about what others are thinking and don’t just assume that others will do the helping.

    We must be sure to follow the steps in Latané and Darley’s model, attempting to increase helping at each stage. We must make the emergency noticeable and clearly an emergency, for instance, by yelling out: “This is an emergency! Please call the police! I need help!” And we must attempt to avoid the diffusion of responsibility, for instance, by designating one individual to help: “You over there in the red shirt, please call 911 now!”


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