Prosocial behavior is

12 Examples, Activities & Findings

It was around midnight when a little dog darted out in front of Dr. Abigail Marsh’s car.

She swerved to avoid it, sending her car into a spin across the freeway until it finally came to a stop in the fast lane.

In a daze, she realized that someone was knocking on her passenger-side door, asking her if she needed help. Yes, she did. And with her permission, he hopped into her car, gunned it across the freeway, and parked behind his own vehicle. Then he hopped back into his car and drove off, leaving Dr. Marsh, a Georgetown University professor of psychology, wondering this:

Why would somebody risk his life to help a stranger when there was clearly no possibility of a payoff at all?

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This Article Contains:

  • What Is Prosocial Behavior? 2 Theories in Psychology
  • 3 Real-Life Examples of Prosocial Behavior
  • 4 Thought-Provoking Findings and Experiments
  • Prosocial Behavior in Child Development
  • 2 Ways to Increase Prosocial Behavior
  • 3 Helpful Activities
  • Assessing Prosociality: Questionnaires and Scales
  • Prosocial Behavior, Antisocial Behavior, and Altruism
  • Relevant PositivePsychology. com Resources
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

What Is Prosocial Behavior? 2 Theories in Psychology

Prosocial behavior is any behavior that is intended to benefit another person or persons (Dunfield, 2014). Examples include volunteer work, donating money, or helping a neighbor move a heavy item of furniture. The most striking type of prosocial behavior is altruism, where a person takes on a cost to help another person with no expectation or possibility of receiving a benefit in return.

This is what Dr. Marsh experienced from the anonymous driver who put in time and effort to help her to safety and asked for no compensation in return.

When you engage in prosocial behavior, the goal of your behavior is to address another person’s needs. Generally speaking, people’s needs fall into three categories:

  • Instrumental needs, where an individual experiences difficulty achieving a goal on their own
  • Unmet desires, where an individual does not have access to a required resource
  • Emotional distress, such as grief or loneliness

When you help a person reach a goal, share your resources, or provide comfort, you are engaging in prosocial behavior.

Scientists and philosophers have proposed numerous theories to explain the paradox of prosocial behavior. Why do people willingly impose costs on themselves to benefit others rather than focusing solely on benefiting themselves?

Theoretical explanations of prosocial behavior fall into two broadly defined categories. The first category contains evolution-based theories that explain prosocial behavior as adaptations to the pressures inherent in social living.

Kin selection theory explains why you are more likely to help genetic relatives than friends or strangers. If you help people who share genes with you, you increase their chances of survival and ensure that your genes remain (or increase) in the gene pool (Hamilton, 1963, 1964).

Reciprocal altruism theory points out that helping non-kin can also be adaptive if the recipients of your generosity can be relied upon to reciprocate help when you need it (Trivers, 1971).

Scientists Robert Axelrod and William Hamilton (1981) summarized prosocial behavior in the natural world this way:

The theory of evolution is based on the struggle for life and the survival of the fittest. Yet cooperation is common between members of the same species and even between members of different species.

The second broad category of theories includes those that attribute prosocial tendencies to individual differences in social learning experiences, mood, and ability to empathize (Bierhoff, 2005).

For example, a large meta-analysis found that the strongest predictor of prosocial behavior is the ability to empathize with feelings and viewpoints of other people (Bierhoff, Klein, and Kramp, 1991).

Other studies have found that children and adults are more willing to help or share with others when they are in a happy mood than when they are in a neutral or negative mood (Rosenhan, Underwood, & Moore, 1974).

3 Real-Life Examples of Prosocial Behavior

Most social species exhibit a distinct preference for helping relatives over non-related individuals but also frequently extend prosocial behavior to strangers.

For example, rats will work a latch to free a trapped rat or rescue a drowning one, even when turning their backs would allow them to obtain a tasty reward (Sato, Tan, Tate, & Okada, 2015).

Vervet monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though doing so puts them at risk of attack (Cheney & Seyfarth, 1990).

Over 115 episodes of humpback whales intervening in killer whale attacks on unrelated species have been documented by marine biologists (Pitman et al., 2017).

People engage in prosocial behavior when they donate time or money to charitable causes, help a friend move heavy furniture, run errands for someone who is ill, and encourage someone who feels like giving up.

In each case, we offer time and effort to ease someone else’s burden or improve their wellbeing.

4 Thought-Provoking Findings and Experiments

According to standard economic theories that are taught in business schools and political science, the most rational choice in any situation is the one that maximizes benefits to you, regardless of the impact on others (Anand, Pattanaik, & Puppe, 2009).

To put it another way, you behave rationally only when you behave selfishly. Yet decades of research in experimental economics, experimental psychology, and anthropology have proven otherwise. When making decisions, people take the impact their choices have on others seriously.

The most dramatic demonstrations come from studies based on Dictator and Ultimatum economic games, such as the following.

In the Dictator game, a sum of money is given to one person, and that person has complete authority to decide whether to keep or share the money with another person.

According to standard economic theories, the rational thing to do is to keep all the money for yourself. But that is not what people do. Instead, dictators freely give away about 15–35% of the money to their partners – strangers they just met and will probably never see again (Camerer, 2003).

This result has been replicated worldwide, from small-scale hunter–gatherer societies to large industrialized societies (Henrich et al. , 2005).

In the Ultimatum game, one party is given the right to propose how the sum should be divided, and another party (the responder) can either accept or reject the offer. If the offer is rejected, nobody gets any money.

According to standard economic theories, proposers should offer the minimum amount possible, and responders should accept whatever is offered (because something is better than nothing). But that is not what people do. Proposers typically offer 40–50%, and responders routinely reject offers of less than 20% (Camerer, 2003).

Even more surprising is the observation that people are often willing to pay a penalty to be given the opportunity to punish a player who behaves selfishly in Dictator and Ultimatum games, even if they are not playing the game but merely watching it (Fehr & Gächter, 2002).

Worldwide, people’s choices appear to be motivated by concerns about fairness, often creating norms (social rules) that are intended to promote prosocial behavior.

Prosocial individuals are typically sought after as partners, friends, and mates. Those who behave selfishly are avoided because they signal their willingness to exploit rather than help their partners (von Rueden, 2014).

Prosocial Behavior in Child Development

Over the past four decades, developmental psychologists have devised ingenious methods for probing the minds of infants to discover what they know and how they learn.

Because infants can’t talk, these methods rely on other kinds of measurable behaviors such as how long they look at displays that differ in theoretically relevant ways or which choices they make when given a chance to reach for different types of toys. Surprisingly, infants show strong prosocial as well as in-group biases from a very early age.

Infants as young as six months prefer individuals who help others in distress over those who harm others or stand by while another is being harmed.

In one series of experiments, six-month-old infants were shown video clips of a red disk straining to roll up a hill (Hamlin, Bloom, & Wynn, 2007). A yellow square raced into view and pushed the circle up the hill. A blue triangle then appeared and pushed the circle back down to the bottom of the hill.

The infants watched this display repeatedly until they became bored and looked away. Then they were presented with a tray containing a yellow square and blue triangle and were allowed to choose one. Infants overwhelming chose the yellow square.

This result has been replicated in a variety of experiments using different types of actors behaving in either prosocial or antisocial ways.

Other studies have found that infants in this age group prefer individuals who punish people who harm others (Hamlin, Wynn, Bloom, & Mahajan, 2011).

By nine months of age, infants prefer individuals who help those who are like them, and they prefer individuals who harm those who are not like them. For example, in one set of studies, nine-month-olds preferred individuals who harmed puppets that didn’t share their food preferences (Hamlin, Mahajan, Liberman, & Wynn, 2013).

Between 12 and 36 months of age, young children readily engage in prosocial behaviors such as helping, comforting, sharing, and cooperating with others (Brownell, 2013).

By the third year of life, children also show a marked precocity for learning social rules and monitoring compliance with them. For example, they actively enforce rules during games even when they are spectators rather than players (Cummins, 1996; Schmidt & Tomasello, 2012).

By the age of four, children become adept at taking multiple factors into consideration when deciding how to partition resources, such as effort, need, group membership, cost, and past experiences with different individuals (Fehr, Bernhard, & Rockenbach, 2008).

During middle childhood, children begin to use prosocial lying to protect another’s feelings or, in some cultures, to appear modest. Their cognitive skills have also matured sufficiently to allow them to appreciate that harm is sometimes necessary to achieve a greater good, such as pulling someone off an unsafe play structure to prevent them from injury (Evans & Lee, 2014).

2 Ways to Increase Prosocial Behavior

How would one go about improvinf prosocial behavior? We offer two options below.

Nudge people toward prosocial choices

Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler and coauthor Cass Sunstein introduced a powerful means for steering people’s choices in specific directions, called nudging, which involves arranging choices in a way that shifts preferences predictably without forbidding any options.

For example, rather than giving employees the choice of whether or not to enroll in a retirement program, the “Save More Tomorrow” program automatically enrolls employees but gives them the right to opt out at any time.

Programs like these increased retirement savings by as much as $30 billion over the past decade (Malito, 2018).

Improve empathy skills

Empathy essentially means putting yourself in another’s shoes.

Emotional empathy means feeling the same emotion that another person is feeling. If the person is sad, you feel sad as well. If they feel happy, you feel happy.

Cognitive empathy means seeing things from another person’s perspective, understanding why and how they are interpreting and responding to events taking place. Countless studies have repeatedly shown that individuals who excel at cognitive and emotional empathy find it easier to cooperate with, help, and defuse conflicts between others (Stocks, Lishner, & Decker, 2009).

One of the best ways to improve empathy skills is to read fiction and biographies. When you read a novel or biography, the story unfolds in a character’s own words, putting you right there inside their minds and feelings.

Neuroscience studies have reported that when reading fiction, there is more activity in parts of the brain that are involved in simulating what other people are thinking (Tamir, Bricker, Dodell-Feder, & Mitchell, 2016). Other studies have found that reading fictional narratives increased self-reported empathy and empathetic skills over time (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013).

3 Helpful Activities

Engage in turn-taking games with young children, such as taking turns pressing the buttons on a toy, rolling a ball back and forth, or handing toys to each other.

Psychologists Rodolfo Barragan and Carol Dweck (2014) found that even one-year-olds quickly begin to respond to new playmates as people to help and share with after playing games like these.

Hone your skills at reading emotional facial expressions. It is easier to behave in prosocial ways if you are adept at interpreting facial expressions and anticipating what people want or what they’ll do. Courses for adults to improve emotion reading skills have been developed by Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and expert in the fields of emotions, nonverbal communication, and deception detection.

Play party games that encourage perspective taking. Game designer, artist, and professor Mary Flanagan developed a subtle, less preachy approach to improving social coordination skills called the Awkward Moment Card Game, which requires players to choose solutions to awkward social problems. Adults and children have been found to improve their perspective-taking skills after playing the game regularly.

Assessing Prosociality: Questionnaires and Scales

The most widely used and respected assessment instrument is the Prosocial Tendencies Measure (Carlo & Randall, 2002). The measure was initially developed to use with college-aged students and young adults and was later modified to use with middle and high-school-aged adolescents.

It is an extensive scale of 23 items, which distinguish the following six types of prosocial behaviors:

  • Altruistic (example item: I feel that if I help someone, they should help me in the future.)
  • Anonymous (example item: I tend to help needy others most when they do not know who helped them.)
  • Dire (example item: I tend to help people who are in a real crisis or need.)
  • Emotional (example item: I tend to help others, particularly when they are emotionally distressed.)
  • Compliant (example item: When people ask me to help them, I don’t hesitate.)
  • Public (example item: I can help others best when people are watching me.)

Another widely used instrument is the Prosocialness Scale for Adults (Caprara, Steca, Zelli, & Capanna, 2005). The scale is composed of 17 items and classifies behaviors and feelings into four types: sharing, helping, taking care of, and empathy with others.

Notably, the scores people receive on these questionnaires are predictive of their behavior in Dictator and Ultimatum games. For example, individuals who score high on altruism tend to make generous offers in these economic games (Rodrigues, Nagowski, Mussel, & Hewig, 2018; Zhao, Ferguson, & Smillie, 2016).

The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a useful online questionnaire for assessing the prosocial behavior of children between the ages of 6–11 years.

Prosocial Behavior, Antisocial Behavior, and Altruism

The opposite of prosocial behavior is antisocial behavior, that is, behavior that is intended to hinder or harm others.

Altruism is an extreme version of prosocial behavior because it involves imposing costs on yourself solely to benefit others.

Psychopathy is an extreme version of antisocial behavior because harm is imposed on others solely to the benefit of oneself, without regard to the suffering inflicted on others.

Extraordinary altruists – such as those who donate kidneys to others – show exceptional sympathetic neural responses to others’ emotions (particularly fear), which drive them to sympathetic action (Brethel-Haurwitz et al., 2018).

In contrast, psychopaths show a deficiency in this kind of neural response and a corresponding reduction in empathy for others’ distress (Blair, 2013).

Relevant Resources

At, we offer many resources with which to develop your prosocial behavior skills.

This article will teach you how to regulate emotions and not act impulsively. Another good read is this article that will show you how to improve communication skills. Whether your goal is to get your kids to clean up their rooms or to get your boss to extend a work deadline, it is important to frame the request in a way that is unlikely to be perceived as a threat, demand, or negative evaluation by the other person.  

Finding your own purpose, perhaps through reading any of these meaning of life books, may lead you to find that serving others is what brings you happiness.

Lastly, we strongly recommend reading this article about altruism, which explains the concept in great depth.

A Take-Home Message

Decades of research in cognitive science, developmental science, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and anthropology have quite clearly shown that we are born with prosocial biases and that the strength of these biases varies across individuals and societies.

Our early learning experiences and cultural pressures shape these biases, either strengthening or weakening this inborn tendency to help or hinder others.

Adults and children tend to prefer to interact with people who display prosocial behavior and to avoid those who behave selfishly.

Historically, societies that favor cooperative effort and prosocial behavior thrive, while those that prefer self-interest eventually self-destruct.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free.

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What Is Prosocial Behavior? | BetterHelp

Have you ever done something for someone with no thought of a reward? Or, has someone helped you without asking for anything in return? These kinds of behaviors can often be described as selfless acts or even altruistic behavior. While these are all selfless acts, they are more than that...

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... these are examples of prosocial behavior. Here’s a look at what it means to behave in prosocial ways.

What Is Prosocial Behavior?

The prosocial behavior definition psychology theorists created started as the opposite of antisocial behavior. While people engage in antisocial behavior with the intent to hurt someone, people engage in prosocial behavior to help. However, understanding prosocial behavior involves digging deeper than this, such as understanding the role of empathy and moral reasoning. You can learn more about your own prosocial behaviors in online therapy.

Prosocial behavior is a form of positive psychology that focuses on how people help each other out and do things for the greater good. It explores why some people feel a sense of personal responsibility to engage in prosocial behavior and how others use such behaviors to serve themselves.

Prosocial behaviors are often divided into three categories: proactive, reactive, and altruistic.  Proactive prosocial actions usually come out of self-interest. They tend to be status linked and enhance the popularity of the person within a particular group. Reactive prosocial actions are performed in response to a situation. Altruistic prosocial actions are actions that are meant to help others without asking for anything in return.

However, many psychologists question whether true pure altruism exists. It may be that there are other reasons people help each other in a seemingly unselfish way. Prosocial behaviors may go back to our evolutionary past when reciprocity and kin selection (helping raise a relative’s children for the good of the group) were essential for survival. In other words, when you behave altruistically, you may simply be doing what humans have learned to do for survival throughout millennia.

Furthermore, prosocial tendencies may be linked to genetics. For example, some people may have prosocial personality traits such as agreeableness and honesty, which make them more inclined towards prosocial behaviors. Also, there may be sex differences in how people exhibit prosocial behaviors or why they engage in those behaviors at all.

Examples Of Kinds Of Prosocial Behavior In Action

Once you can define it in an abstract way, the next step to understanding is to recognize examples of prosocial behavior. Here are some of the general types and specific examples of each: as identified in the social psychology volume “Handbook of Social Psychology”:


Helping behaviors are a type of prosocial behavior that benefits both individuals and society as a whole. Some ways to help others include:

  • Stopping to help a stranded motorist change a tire
  • Carrying someone’s heavy groceries to their car
  • Helping a new neighbor move in and unpack
  • Doing errands for someone who is too sick to manage them
  • Helping someone do needed repairs on their house
  • Paying for someone’s bus fare
  • Letting someone borrow your books, games, or videos


Charitable giving is a wonderful form of prosocial behavior. You can donate a wide variety of things to charities or people in your community who are less fortunate than you are. Here are some ways to donate:

  • Give nice clothing you no longer wear to a community clothes closet or homeless shelter
  • Send money to the Red Cross or another disaster relief organization
  • Give household goods to someone just starting on their own
  • Give books or blankets to residents of a nursing home


Volunteering is almost like donating, but instead of giving physical items, you’re offering your time, abilities, and talents to benefit someone. Here are some ways to volunteer:

  • Read to children who are in the hospital
  • Help with community cleanup after a flood
  • Help organize a community event
  • Sew quilts for police officers, firefighters, or veterans who were hurt on the job


Cooperating is simply working together with one or more people to accomplish a common goal. When people work together well, they can get more done than each could ever achieve on their own. Here are some specific ways to be cooperative:

  • Washing dishes while someone else dries
  • Working together to paint a mural
  • Doing your part in a community project

Being Emotionally Supportive

Being emotionally supportive is a prosocial behavior that might not be as easy as it sounds. It can be distressing to listen to someone’s troubles, and it can take some time to let them talk it out. But people do offer each other emotional support by engaging in prosocial behaviors like:

  • Listening actively and empathetically while someone talks about a recent loss or challenge
  • Offering a hug when someone is sad or upset
  • Being available for to talk when someone is lonely
  • Giving compliments when someone needs a boost to their self-esteem
  • Encouraging someone who feels like giving up

However, there are sex differences in how people engage in this form of prosocial behavior. Traditionally, women are more inclined to offer emotional support than men, who may help out with a different form of prosocial behavior. However, as the stigma of toxic masculinity declines, more men may be open to offering emotional support. As this stigma and traditional gender roles disintegrate, sex differences in other prosocial behaviors may decrease as well.

Obeying Society’s Rules

When you follow the rules, you benefit both yourself and society as a whole. What makes this prosocial behavior is that you do it willingly for the good of everyone. Here are some of the rules you probably follow:

  • Stopping at a stoplight
  • Filing your tax return
  • Paying at a store rather than shoplifting

Complying With Social Norms And Conventions

Aside from the hard and fast written rules in society, there are also social conventions that most people follow most of the time. Some of these social customs include:

  • Tipping a server at a restaurant
  • Greeting people when they arrive and saying goodbye when they leave
  • Returning favors
  • Using good etiquette (table manners, saying please and thanks, etc. )

The Psychology Of Prosocial Behavior

Several factors may influence whether you engage in prosocial behaviors or not. Some have to do with the situation while others depend on the individuals involved.

The Bystander Effect

One example of a situational factor in prosocial behavior is the bystander effect. If someone needs help, and many people are standing around doing nothing, individuals are less likely to help. But why is that? Usually, it’s because:

  • They don’t notice what’s happening.
  • They don’t see it as an emergency.
  • They don’t feel responsible because there are so many others there who could help.
  • They don’t think they have the skills needed to help properly.
  • They remain undecided about whether to help.

Unfortunately, the bystander effect can have some practical concerns and devastating consequences. For example, the bystander effect is common in toxic workplaces, where employees do little to help those who are being abused or harassed by coworkers or superiors. Even worse, there have been murder cases where there have been many bystanders and witnesses, but none did anything to intervene or prevent the crime. However, as stated above, this is not out of self-importance or selfishness. The bystander effect occurs simply because the witnesses don't know what to do.

Individual factors
  • What you learned about prosocial behaviors as a child. Did your parents donate or volunteer?)
  • Your cognitive, physical, and social capabilities
  • Your standards and ideals
  • Whether you practice empathy in your communication with others
  • Whether you have an agreeable disposition

Does It Matter If Someone’s Watching?

Would you do a good deed if no one knew you did it? You might, but you’d be more likely to do prosocial behaviors if someone was there to see. Despite the anonymous donors and secret Santas in the world, most people want others to know they’ve done something good. They want recognition for their positive behaviors. They want the social status that comes when people know they’ve done something for the community. They want the perks of being well-liked for their generosity.

Do People Perform These Behaviors Because Of Guilt?

Many people believe that prosocial behaviors only happen when someone feels guilty. If this is true, it could be that doing something kind and considerate diminishes their feelings of guilt for harming someone. However, research suggests that when someone else does something to make up for the damage, the person who caused the harm is less likely to act in prosocial ways to the victim.

There’s also the issue of a broader kind of guilt. If you see an ad from a world hunger charity where people look sad and starving, you may feel guilty for having what you need while others don’t. Whether this guilt is behind your prosocial behaviors or not, the bottom line is that by contributing you are helping the less fortunate.

Yet, having generalized guilt may not be the healthiest attitude to have toward life. And, if you feel guilty for things you had no control over, it can cause you unnecessary emotional distress. That’s why it’s important to deal with your excessive feelings of guilt. This is something you can talk to a therapist about; a licensed, qualified mental health professional can help you set boundaries so that you do not feel an excessive amount of guilt or shame.

Prosocial Behaviors In Children

There are two major questions that social scientists who are studying prosocial behavior wish to answer. The first is how early does this behavior show up in child development? And the second is why these behaviors develop early in life? Is this just learned behavior or is it a part of human nature?

The Timeline Of Prosocial Development

The answer to the first question is surprising. To date, many research findings point to the development of these behaviors in infants as young as twelve months old.  

However, infants under the age of twenty-four months are limited in their prosocial development. Though they have developed great empathy and have a genuine interest in helping others, they typically only demonstrate one form of prosocial behavior. Furthermore, infants and toddlers tend to only exhibit prosocial behaviors in limited situations, such as when someone is expressing obvious distress.

However, research suggests that the second year of life is when prosocial behavior truly blossoms. This is when toddlers begin to develop cognitive empathy and emotional empathy, inferring the wants and needs of those around them and taking prosocial actions to meet those needs. Of course, there are individual differences when it comes to prosocial and moral development, but generally, this is the age when most toddlers experience significant prosocial development.

Why Does Prosocial Behavior Form Early In Development?

So how do social scientists explain prosocial behavior developing at such a young age? One explanation is that infants have specialized cognitive and social capacities that encourage prosocial action. Some evolutionary psychologists have shown through research and study that infants already have the capacity for prosocial behavior and therefore it is a distinct part of human nature.

Another hypothesis is that prosocial behavior is learned and positively reinforced. When socializing with their parents or other children, the caregivers may positively encourage any behaviors that are seen as prosocial.

Researchers disagree as to which hypothesis is correct. However, neither should be fully excluded. The truth could contain both, as some prosocial acts may stem from early child development, while others are learned and reinforced. There is no definite answer to this question though, but much future research is devoted to it.

Prosocial Behavior In Middle Childhood And Early Adolescence

But prosocial behavior studies in child psychology do not stop at infancy and toddlerhood. It is important to understand how prosocial behavior continues to develop in middle childhood and early adolescence.

Experimental research suggests that friendship and connection motivate prosocial behavior more as we age. This was exemplified in many behavioral experiments, such as one in The Journal Of Early Adolescence that paired children with a close friend or a random classmate. The children selected for this experiment were all in middle childhood, either in grades four, six, or eight.

Once paired, the children were given two tasks to complete. The results showed that eighth-graders were far more generous and helpful to their friends than random classmates, while fourth and sixth graders treated both groups similarly. This study implies that people are more motivated to engage in prosocial behaviors when they are closely linked to the other person. However, young children are more likely to exhibit prosocial acts to friends and acquaintances equally.

This phenomenon may be due to our evolutionary history, where it was more beneficial to survival to exhibit prosocial behaviors towards your tribe or kin and not so much towards strangers. Perhaps, future research will be able to confirm this for certain.

Further Reading

The study of prosocial behavior and moral development in children is a fascinating subject. If you wish to learn more, you can find great information in the works of Nancy Eisenberg. She is a major researcher in the field of prosocial behavior and has authored many books on the subject including The Caring Child (Harvard University Press), The Roots Of Prosocial Behavior In Children (Cambridge University Press), and The Development Of Prosocial Behavior (Elsevier Science).

What’s The Role Of Therapy

Therapy helps with prosocial behaviors in a few ways, many of them identified first in social psychology and in what many consider an essential volume in prosocial research: the Handbook of Social Psychology. First, when you deal with your guilt appropriately through therapy, you can find more positive reasons to be a giving person. Second, your counselor can help and support you as you practice. That’s important to your mental health because these behaviors can lead to decreased anxiety and improved mood.

Also, cultivating positive emotions makes you more likely to act in prosocial ways. If you develop your sense of gratitude, you’re more likely to help. And, when you help, the experience may generate a “helper’s high” and bring more positive emotions afterward. In fact, some communities offer helper therapy, where prosocial behavior is a part of the treatment for a variety of mental health disorders.

If you want to increase your feelings of personal well-being and self-worth, develop better relationships, and help others in your community, therapy can help you achieve your goals. And, if you believe a mental health disorder is keeping you from doing the good things you want to do, getting therapy can help you manage that disorder, so you’re at your best.

You can talk to a counselor about guilty feelings, lack of prosocial behavior, and mood problems, either in your community or online at BetterHelp. When you deal with your mental health issues, you may feel more positive about helping the individuals in your life. You’ll learn to value your abilities and characteristics so that you feel confident in using them to help your community. And in the process, you can build a better, happier, more fulfilling life.

Below are some commonly asked questions around this topic:

What are 3 benefits of prosocial behaviors?

What are the characteristics of prosocial Behaviour?

What is a pro social skill?

How do you improve behavior?

What is another word for prosocial behavior?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What Is An Example Of Prosocial Behavior?

It is a type of behavior that benefits others, and has a broad range of examples and applications. Although altruism and empathy play a role in social psychology, they are also visible outside of psychological intervention and assistance and can be seen in countless interactions between strangers and friends, alike.

What Are Three Types Of Prosocial Behaviors?

These types are important, because they help break down the different ways to engage, and can offer a starting point for those studying the field, and those wishing to improve their own prosocial behavior, or those looking to move away from antisocial tendencies.

Helping behavior is also an essential part of prosocial behavior, because it demonstrates a belief that there are people outside of oneself. Self-focused, egotistic action furthers feelings of isolation (in oneself and in others), while helping behavior broadens the scope of someone’s vision, allows them to see and recognize that people need each other, and helping benefits the person helping just as much as it benefits the person being helped. Helping behavior can mean offering a one-time intervention for a sick friend, or continually making time for volunteer opportunities in the community.

Comforting is the final of the three types of prosocial behavior, and also comes in a variety of flavors, so to speak. Comforting someone can mean speaking truth and kindness into a difficult situation, offering monetary intervention when they have lost a job, or simply providing a judgment free space in which to vent or air their pain. 

What Causes Prosocial Behavior?

The exact cause is nuanced; some people seem to be naturally predisposed toward prosocial behavior, while others seem to have a predilection toward antisocial tendencies. Fortunately, because it is integral to a healthy individual and a healthy society, the basis of these actions (empathy) can be taught. Whether through therapeutic intervention, at home in everyday life and examples, or through inpatient settings, empathy can be taught and learned, in order to promote a more just society.

Outside of intentional instruction, prosocial behavior is most often indulged in because it is a way of life seen in childhood, modeled by parents, grandparents, or other trusted adults, such as teachers. Prosocial behavior may also be encouraged in settings that praise regular engagement in the practice, such as school, church, or community programs designed to support and educate children and youth. Community toy drives, local volunteer opportunities, and national social education programs can all further encourage the practice.

Perhaps some of the most notable instances of these actions come on the heels of disaster. In New York, for instance, it was seen in spades in the aftermath of September 11th. In natural disasters, too, it is often seen, whether that comes in the form of neighbors comforting one another following a devastating tornado, or volunteers coming from all over the world to rebuild after a devastating pandemic has wrought havoc on a country’s infrastructure.

Why Is Prosocial Behavior So Important?

It is important because it is the cornerstone of a healthy, well-functioning society. Identified in New York-educated Daniel Batson’s research found in “Handbook of Social Psychology,” prosocial behavior is said to be vital because it describes any action that is completed with the intention of benefitting others—and not oneself. The “Handbook of Social Psychology” acknowledges that this is an important part of healthy functioning because it demonstrates an individual’s ability to recognize others, apart from oneself. In childhood, behavior is largely self-focused: children take the blame for events outside of their control, feel as though they are being singled out and ignored when others are praised, and generally struggle to recognize the presence and importance of others until they have grown older. If this egocentric type of thinking is not grown out of, individuals can take on antisocial tendencies, which can lead to erratic, compulsive, impulsive actions, and can precede any number of mental health maladies and disorders.

These behaviors are important, too, because it plays a significant role in redistributing wealth, and making sure societies function as well-oiled machines; after all, if people are not willing to look out for one another and show one another kindness, the world would quickly and easily descend into a “dog-eat-dog” dystopia, characterized by egoism and self-focus. Social psychology dictates that such a society is not a healthy one, and that societies and people that thrive do so, in part, due to the domino effect of this behavior, or the willingness to “return the favor” after someone has shown them kindness.

This idea is even important in law and technology; from creating a privacy policy contract to creating and implementing laws, people must consider how others may benefit from or be harmed by business practices and lawmaking practices. Creating a privacy policy contract, in keeping with healthy business practices and social psychology, benefits others, as it ensures that all information gathered is kept private and is not delivered to others. In many cases, this demonstrates altruism on the part of a company, as the company could certainly benefit from selling client or patron information, but refuse to do so out of respect for the individual and a recognition of the individual’s right to privacy, dignity, and consideration.

How Do You Promote Prosocial Behaviors?

If you’re a parent, you’re probably wondering about the best ways to promote prosocial behaviors in children. Well, luckily there are many things you can do to encourage your children to engage in prosocial actions that will benefit them and their friends and peers.

Research suggests that people engage in prosocial behaviors when they receive some form of encouragement to do so. This will help them learn the behaviors themselves and create a habit of taking prosocial actions in the future without prompting.

You should also encourage any sign or cause of prosocial behavior such as emotional empathy or perspective-taking. If you see your child showing concern for another or making an effort to see the world through their perspective, then praise them for this behavior so that it continues in the future.

As mentioned in the article, young children tend to focus on only one or two prosocial actions early in life. For example, they may see someone in distress and may choose to help but don’t know how to comfort the person. To encourage other prosocial behaviors, you can exemplify them yourself when situations call for it or suggest they try a different action if they show a genuine desire to be helpful.

If your child is not showing prosocial tendencies, then you may just need to have a discussion on the importance of prosocial behavior. Don’t be quick to think that your child is growing up to be antisocial. There are many children who want to be helpful, but don’t always know how. Therefore, aim to explain prosocial behaviors and moral reasoning to them, so they know how to act when they have a desire to help. Furthermore, help them gain moral understanding so they know which actions are right and wrong when they witness someone who needs help or is in distress.

What is prosocial behavior? - Practical psychology on

Posted by Tatiana at . Published in Social Psychology Last updated: 09/07/2015

Prosocial behavior is defined as behavior that aims to help other people. Prosocial behavior is characterized by concern for the rights, feelings, and well-being of others. Behavior that can be described as prosocial involves empathy and concern for others, as well as the desire to help or benefit other people.

In his book The Handbook of Social Psychology , S. Daniel Batson defines prosocial behavior as "a wide range of activities for the benefit of others, such as helping, comforting, sharing, and cooperating."

The term "prosocial behavior" itself originated in the 1970s as an antonym for the term "antisocial behavior".

What motivates people to be prosocial?

Prosocial behavior has long presented a challenge to sociologists seeking to understand why people tend to help others at a cost to themselves. In some cases, people even endanger their own lives in an effort to help others, including complete strangers. Why do people do things that are of no benefit to themselves?

Psychologists talk about the existence of several reasons why people demonstrate prosocial behavior. In many cases, these behaviors are encouraged during childhood and adolescence: adults approve and reinforce children's positive actions, whether it's just empathy for another or real help.

Evolutionary psychologists often condemn prosocial behavior in terms of the principles of natural selection. Obviously, by constantly putting yourself at risk, a person is unlikely to be able to pass on his genes to the next generations.

However, the idea of ​​kin selection suggests that by helping members of our family, we contribute to the survival of the genus and the transmission of genes to future generations. The researchers were even able to provide evidence that people are more likely to help those with whom they are related by blood.

In addition, there are also norms of reciprocity, which imply that when a person does something useful for another, he feels obliged to repay this debt. In fact, psychologists are sure that when we help others, we expect them to help us in return. According to evolutionary psychologists, this norm appeared so that people who understand that helping others can be mutual have a better chance of surviving and passing on their genes.

Prosocial behavior is often seen as forced on a range of factors, including selfish considerations (increasing one's self-esteem), mutual benefit (again, one day helping the performer may benefit himself), and more altruistic considerations (helping purely out of compassion). to another person).

Influence of situational variables on prosocial behavior

The characteristics of a situation can also have a powerful effect on a person's propensity to engage in prosocial behavior. The bystander effect is one of the clearest examples of how a situation can affect behavior.

For example, if you drop your wallet, the likelihood that someone will stop and help you will be less, the more people have witnessed this. The same thing can happen when someone is in serious danger, such as in a car accident. Each of the witnesses may believe that, since he is not the only one, someone must have already rushed to help.

Interest in this phenomenon was attracted by the story of Kitty Genovese. Even then, scientists thought about why people help in some cases and remain indifferent in others. Kitty eventually called an ambulance, but it was too late - the girl died on the way to the hospital. Experts have found many different situational variables that promote and hinder prosocial behavior.

First of all, the so-called diffusion of responsibility interferes; responsibility is always distributed among all participants in the situation, the more there are, the less everyone feels responsible for what is happening.

People also tend to look at the reaction of others to what is happening, especially if the event is characterized by some uncertainty. If no one around reacts, then the pressure exerted on a particular observer seems negligible. It is not enough to make a person act.

Fear of judgment from other group members also plays a role. People are sometimes afraid to offer their help because they may find it unwelcome or unreasonable. In order to avoid judging other passers-by, people simply do not take any action.

Psychologists Lanthan and Darley suggested that in order for a person to take action, he must:

  1. pay attention to what is happening;
  2. interpret the event as an emergency;
  3. feel responsible;
  4. to make sure that he has the necessary skills;
  5. make a conscious choice and offer your help.

There are several factors that can help a person overcome the bystander effect, including a personal relationship with the person in need, having the skills and knowledge to help, and empathy for the person in need.

Prosocial behavior and altruism

Altruism is sometimes seen as a form of prosocial behavior, but some experts believe that these are actually different concepts. While prosocial behavior does ultimately involve some advantage for the helper, altruism is seen as a form of behavior based purely on concern for the person who needs help.

Other experts argue, however, that many examples of altruism are based on reciprocity or some kind of self-interest - after all, many are engaged in charity work, volunteer work, etc. just to get the recognition of others or to feel better.

Tags: altruism, behavior, social psychology

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What is prosocial behavior in psychology with examples

If you are interested in psychology in terms of human behavior, but you do not have enough time to study specialized tutorials or scientific articles, the material presented below is what you need.

In a simple and understandable language, we will introduce you to the concept of "prosocial behavior". In terms of content, this article is nothing more than a short, but volume-filled manual on the stated issue.

In this article:

Brief educational program on the concept of “prosocial behavior”Where does prosocial behavior originateResearch on the development of prosocial behaviorHow does prosocial behavior differ from altruismExamples of prosocial behavior0015

Photo by Edmond Dantes: Pexels

Prosocial behavior refers to behavior that is characterized by helping others. Its integral components are:

  • empathy;
  • care;
  • desire to benefit other people;
  • protection;
  • participation;
  • cooperation;
  • physical protection.

In his book, the American social psychologist D. Batson gives the following interpretation of prosocial behavior: "a diverse range of actions that are aimed at the benefit of other people."

Prosocial behavior presupposes some kind of sacrifice (small remark: sacrifice provided that it is compensated). But you can’t literally talk about a certain set of social skills. When the level of full development is reached, the behavior in question is combined with feelings of friendship and warmth. As an example: if a child sees a sad person, then he himself begins to feel sad. Begins to empathize and experience empathy.

Where does prosocial behavior come from

When answering a question, there will be no complicated and confusing answers for you. Everything is trivial - of course from childhood! Parents have a strong influence on the development of prosocial behavior. The same influence can be from brothers and sisters.

Those children who live in an environment of security and care, the atmosphere of which, in turn, their parents create, are more likely to show care for younger brothers or sisters than those children who arrive in the zone of relationships that imply a lack of security and security.

Prosocial behavior in children can manifest itself from the age of two. But it is worth noting that in young children the propensity for cooperation, participation and empathy is very limited.

Research on the development of prosocial behavior

There are no research paradigms on this issue. And there are good reasons for this, since, on the one hand, for obvious reasons, researchers try to avoid those experiments in which a child would be punished for prosocial behavior. And there are some nuances regarding studies in which children were rewarded for demonstrating prosocial behavior:

  • in such studies, the results were obtained by mimicking the behavior of another.

Human Prosocial Behavior

Ethnic African American boys showed surprising results in one study of prosocial behavior from a number of other subjects. The researchers put forward the following hypothesis:

  • Since many boys grew up without fathers, their mothers often turned to them for help and support with an emotional component. As a result, they learned to comfort and help very early.

As we have already established, the origins of prosocial behavior come from childhood. But it continues to develop in middle age, adolescence and adulthood.

Psychologists express an opinion about the reasons why people demonstrate prosocial behavior. Above, we have already revealed one of the reasons: the safety and reliability that adults broadcast and “lay” into the child. Another reason is that adults show approval and reinforce the actions of children with a “+” sign.

But, oddly enough, prosocial behavior is condemned by evolutionary psychologists. They are guided by the principles of natural selection, from the position that when a person risks himself for the sake of others, he is at risk, and the likelihood of passing his genes to the next generation begins to decline.

Despite the condemnation, the very idea of ​​kin selection is that when we help members of our family, we thereby contribute to the transmission of genes to future generations.

A number of studies have found:

  • people are more likely to help those with whom they are related by blood.

Prosocial behavior has another interesting aspect. Psychologists suggest that when we help someone, we, consciously or not, expect help in return.

Evolutionary psychologists on this occasion, give the following explanation:

  • the generation of this norm was due to the fact that when people understand that help can be mutual, they have a better chance of survival and, therefore, will be able to pass on their genes to future generations.

What is the difference between prosocial behavior and altruism

This is how smoothly you and I approached an interesting question: what are the differences between prosocial behavior and altruism, and are there any at all?


The unequivocal answer is yes!

Let's start with the fact that prosocial behavior and altruism, in psychology, are considered to be quite related concepts.

We have already found out what prosocial behavior means. And so that you can understand the difference, we should devote a couple of lines to what altruism is.

  • Altruism means when one person, without any benefit to himself, helps another. Simply put, altruism can be unequivocally synonymous with disinterestedness.

Although it is worth noting that about altruism, psychologists are debating whether people are capable of displaying the purest altruism. But be that as it may, there are examples that are a clear indicator of altruism.

They are associated with situations of military operations, or unexpected accidents, when some were ready to risk their own lives for the sake of others.

But again, we should not forget the fine line between altruism and prosocial behavior. Therefore, it is important to know the differences in order to understand where altruism takes place, and in which cases prosocial behavior is broadcast.

  • Prosocial behavior involves receiving internal or external rewards.
  • Prosocial behavior provides benefits for both parties.
  • In altruism, the helper does not expect to receive a benefit.

Examples of prosocial behavior include:

  • donation;
  • cooperation;
  • voluntary work;
  • help.

They have already been identified above, but they have not focused on the main aspect:

  • the above actions can be motivated both by empathy and concern for the well-being of others, as well as practical and selfish considerations.

And if in the first case there is a place for altruism, then in the second - prosocial behavior.

Some studies have shown that people are more likely to act prosocially in society rather than in narrowly private settings. This, first of all, is directly related to the recognition of a person as a pro-social personality, which increases his self-esteem in the eyes of the social group.

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Other studies have shown that when people see that they are being observed, their prosocial actions change: they begin to behave in a way that in the eyes of others, look more positive and try to conform to the norms of behavior.

The above is another piece of evidence for the difference between altruism and prosocial behavior.

Examples of pro-social behavior

Blogging charity can be a striking example of pro-social behavior. If you are an active user of Internet resources, then we can even bet that you have often come across videos of bloggers who buy food for poor grandparents in supermarkets.

On the one hand, they are doing a good deed, and everything seems to be disinterested. But, their bonuses are laudatory reviews of existing subscribers, and the addition of new ones.

If the same thing was done privately, without sharing it online, then we can say that altruism was the driving force behind such an act.

If we give examples of prosocial behavior, we can touch on the topic of volunteering: by doing something, at first glance, disinterestedly, a person, by evaluating his positive actions, can increase, for himself, a sense of his own importance, or need. As you can see, the benefits are looming again.

  • If we touched on the topic of videos, then you could also see those in which some people, at the risk of their own lives, can save others: at the last moment, they pull a person off the rails in front of an approaching train, or throw themselves into icy water and save drowning.

Here we can talk not about prosocial behavior, but about altruism.

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