Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Prosocial Behavior. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prosocial Behavior. Show all posts

Saturday, March 23, 2024

How prosocial actors use power hierarchies to build moral reputation

Inesi, M. E., & Rios, K. (2023).
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
106, 104441.


Power hierarchies are ubiquitous, emerging formally and informally, in both personal and professional contexts. When prosocial acts are offered within power hierarchies, there is a widespread belief that people who choose lower-power beneficiaries are altruistically motivated, and that those who choose higher-power beneficiaries hold a self-interested motive to ingratiate. In contrast, the current research empirically demonstrates that people can also choose lower-power beneficiaries for self-interested reasons – namely, to bolster their own moral reputation in the group. Across three pre-registered studies, involving different contexts and types of prosocial behavior, and including real financial incentives, we demonstrate that people are more likely to choose lower-power beneficiaries when reputation concerns are more salient. We also provide evidence of the mechanism underlying this pattern: people believe that choosing a lower-power beneficiary more effectively signals their own moral character.


• How do prosocial actors choose their beneficiaries in hierarchies?

• People increasingly choose lower-power beneficiaries when concerned with reputation

• This pattern is driven by a desire to signal high moral character to others

• This implies a short-term re-distribution of resources to lower-power individuals

Some thoughts:

This research challenges the common assumption that prosocial behavior towards lower-status individuals always stems from altruism, while helping those with higher power reflects self-interest. It explores how actors navigate power hierarchies to build their moral reputation.

Key findings:

Reputation matters: People are more likely to choose lower-power beneficiaries when their moral reputation is salient (e.g., being observed by others).

Strategic signaling: Choosing lower-power recipients is seen as a stronger signal of good character, even if the motivation is self-serving.

Not just altruism: Prosocial behavior can be used strategically to gain social approval and build a positive reputation, regardless of the beneficiary's status.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Personality and prosocial behavior: A theoretical framework and meta-analysis

Thielmann, I., Spadaro, G., & Balliet, D. (2020).
Psychological Bulletin, 146(1), 30–90.


Decades of research document individual differences in prosocial behavior using controlled experiments that model social interactions in situations of interdependence. However, theoretical and empirical integration of the vast literature on the predictive validity of personality traits to account for these individual differences is missing. Here, we present a theoretical framework that identifies 4 broad situational affordances across interdependent situations (i.e., exploitation, reciprocity, temporal conflict, and dependence under uncertainty) and more specific subaffordances within certain types of interdependent situations (e.g., possibility to increase equality in outcomes) that can determine when, which, and how personality traits should be expressed in prosocial behavior. To test this framework, we meta-analyzed 770 studies reporting on 3,523 effects of 8 broad and 43 narrow personality traits on prosocial behavior in interdependent situations modeled in 6 commonly studied economic games (Dictator Game, Ultimatum Game, Trust Game, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods Game, and Commons Dilemma). Overall, meta-analytic correlations ranged between −.18 ≤ ρ̂ ≤ .26, and most traits yielding a significant relation to prosocial behavior had conceptual links to the affordances provided in interdependent situations, most prominently the possibility for exploitation. Moreover, for several traits, correlations within games followed the predicted pattern derived from a theoretical analysis of affordances. On the level of traits, we found that narrow and broad traits alike can account for prosocial behavior, informing the bandwidth-fidelity problem. In sum, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical foundation that can guide future research on prosocial behavior and advance our understanding of individual differences in human prosociality.

Public Significance Statement

This meta-analysis provides a theoretical framework and empirical test identifying when, how, and which of 51 personality traits account for individual variation in prosocial behavior. The meta-analysis shows that the relations between personality traits and prosocial behavior can be understood in terms of a few situational affordances (e.g., a possibility for exploitation, a possibility for reciprocity, dependence on others under uncertainty) that allow specific traits to become expressed in behavior across a variety of interdependent situations. As such, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical basis for understanding individual differences in prosocial behavior in various situations that individuals face in their everyday social interactions.

A massive review of the literature finds that the best predictors of pro-social behavior are:
  1. social value orientation
  2. proneness to feel guilt
  3. humility/honesty

Friday, June 9, 2023

Undervaluing the Positive Impact of Kindness Starts Early

Echelbarger, M., & Epley, N. (2023, April 4).


Prosociality can create social connections that increase well-being among both givers and recipients, yet concerns about how another person might respond can make people reluctant to act prosocially. Existing research suggests these concerns may be miscalibrated such that people underestimate the positive impact their prosociality will have on recipients. Understanding when miscalibrated expectations emerge in development is critical for understanding when misplaced cognitive barriers might discourage social engagement, and for understanding when interventions to build relationships could begin. Two experiments asking children (aged 8-17, Experiment 1; aged 4-7, Experiment 2) and adults to perform the same random act of kindness for another person document that both groups significantly underestimate how “big” the act of kindness will seem to recipients, and how positive their act will make recipients feel. Participants significantly undervalued the positive impact of prosociality across ages. Miscalibrated psychological barriers to social connection may emerge early in life.

Public Significance Statement:

Prosociality tends to increase well-being among those performing the prosocial action as well as among those receiving the action.And yet, people may be somewhat reluctant to act prosocially out of concerns about how another person might respond.In two experiments involving children (4-7 years old), adolescents (8-17 years old), and adults, we find that people’s concerns tend to be systematically miscalibrated such that they underestimate how positively others will respond to their prosocial act. The degree of miscalibration is not moderated by age. This suggests that miscalibrated social cognition could make people overly reluctant to behave prosocially, that miscalibrated expectations emerge early in development, and that overcoming these social cognitive barriers could potentially increase well-being across the lifespan.

General Discussion

Positive social connections are critical for happiness and health among children, adolescents, and adults alike, and yet reaching out to connect with others can sometimes be hindered by concerns about how a recipient might respond. A growing body of recent research indicates that people consistently underestimate how positively prosocial actions will make a recipient feel, meaning that social cognition may create a misplaced barrier to social connection(Epley et al., 2022). Two experiments using a novel kindness procedure indicated that miscalibrated expectations arise early in development. In our experiments, children as young as 4-7years along with adults underestimated how much their recipient would value their prosocial act and feel positive afterwards. Psychological barriers to prosocial behavior appear to emerge early and persist into adulthood.

This may seem somewhat surprising given that experience with prosociality would presumably calibrate expectations. However, people can learn from their experience only when they have experience to learn from. Expectations that encourage avoidance may keep people from having the very experiences that would calibrate their expectations(Epley et al., 2022). In addition, people may not recognize the positive impact they have had on another person even after going through an interaction with them. Strangers who have just had a conversation tend to underestimate how much their partner actually liked them (Boothby et al., 2018), another social cognitive bias that has recently been documented in young children over age 5 as well (but not among 4-year-olds; Wolf et al., 2021). These results suggest that even if the givers in our experiments had been able to interact with their recipient while performing their act of kindness, they may still not have been able to recognize how positive recipients felt. Future research should examine how people do, or do not, learn from their experiences in ways that could maintain miscalibrated social expectations, and also examine outcomes across a range of other prosocial acts and among a larger sample of children and adolescents than we studied here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Surprisingly Happy to Have Helped: Underestimating Prosociality Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Asking for Help

Zhao, X., & Epley, N. (2022).
Psychological Science.


Performing acts of kindness increases well-being, yet people can be reluctant to ask for help that would enable others’ kindness. We suggest that people may be overly reluctant because of miscalibrated expectations about others’ prosocial motivation, underestimating how positively others will feel when asked for help. A pretest identified that interest in asking for help was correlated with expectations of how helpers would think and feel, but a series of scenarios, recalled experiences, and live interactions among adult participants in the United States (total N = 2,118) indicated that those needing help consistently underestimated others’ willingness to help, underestimated how positively helpers would feel, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel. These miscalibrated expectations stemmed from underestimating helpers’ prosocial motivation while overestimating compliance motivation. This research highlights a limitation of construing help-seeking through a lens of compliance by scholars and laypeople alike. Undervaluing prosociality could create a misplaced barrier to asking for help when needed.

From the Discussion section

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve well-being for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them. Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that people performing acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment. Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own well-being; it enhanced it.

Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in prosocial activities that people may not take. We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients. People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993). Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ well-being.

Across a variety of different actions, in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be and systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterward. Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience. In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do. Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Too cynical to reconnect: Cynicism moderates the effect of social exclusion on prosociality through empathy

B. K. C. Choy, K. Eom, & N. P. Li
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 178, August 2021, 110871


Extant findings are mixed on whether social exclusion impacts prosociality. We propose one factor that may underlie the mixed results: Cynicism. Specifically, cynicism may moderate the exclusion-prosociality link by influencing interpersonal empathy. Compared to less cynical individuals, we expected highly cynical individuals who were excluded to experience less empathy and, consequently, less prosocial behavior. Using an online ball-tossing game, participants were randomly assigned to an exclusion or inclusion condition. Consistent with our predictions, the effect of social exclusion on prosociality through empathy was contingent on cynicism, such that only less-cynical individuals responded to exclusion with greater empathy, which, in turn, was associated with higher levels of prosocial behavior. We further showed this effect to hold for cynicism, but not other similar traits typically characterized by high disagreeableness. Findings contribute to the social exclusion literature by suggesting a key variable that may moderate social exclusion's impact on resultant empathy and prosocial behavior and are consistent with the perspective that people who are excluded try to not only become included again but to establish alliances characterized by reciprocity.

From the Discussion

While others have proposed that empathy may be reflexively inhibited upon exclusion (DeWall & Baumeister, 2006; Twenge et al., 2007), our findings indicate that this process of inhibition—at least for empathy—may be more flexible than previously thought. If reflexive, individuals would have shown a similar level of empathy regardless of cynicism. That highly- and less-cynical individuals displayed different levels of empathy indicates that some other processes are in play. Our interpretation is that the process through which empathy is exhibited or inhibited may depend on one’s appraisals of the physical and social situation. 

Importantly, unlike cynicism, other similarly disagreeable dispositional traits such as Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and SDO (Social Dominance Orientation) did not modulate the empathy-mediated link between social exclusion and prosociality. This suggests that cynicism is conceptually different from other traits of a seemingly negative nature. Indeed, whereas cynics may hold a negative view of the intentions of others around them, Machiavellians are characterized by a negative view of others’ competence and a pragmatic and strategic approach to social interactions (Jones, 2016). Similarly, whereas cynics view others’ emotions as ingenuine, psychopathic individuals are further distinguished by their high levels of callousness and impulsivity (Paulhus, 2014). Likewise, whereas cynics may view the world as inherently competitive, they may not display the same preference for hierarchy that high-SDO individuals do (Ho et al., 21015). Thus, despite the similarities between these traits, our findings affirm their substantive differences from cynicism. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The habituation fallacy: Disaster victims who are repeatedly victimized are assumed to suffer less, and they are helped less

Hanna Zagefka
European Journal of Social Psychology
First published: 09 February 2022


This paper tests the effects of lay beliefs that disaster victims who have been victimized by other events in the past will cope better with a new adverse event than first-time victims. It is shown that believing that disaster victims can get habituated to suffering reduces helping intentions towards victims of repeated adversity, because repeatedly victimized victims are perceived to be less traumatized by a new adverse event. In other words, those who buy into habituation beliefs will impute less trauma and suffering to repeated victims compared to first-time victims, and they will therefore feel less inclined to help those repeatedly victimized victims. This was demonstrated in a series of six studies, two of which were preregistered (total N = 1,010). Studies 1, 2 and 3 showed that beliefs that disaster victims become habituated to pain do indeed exist among lay people. Such beliefs are factually inaccurate, because repeated exposure to severe adversity makes it harder, not easier, for disaster victims to cope with a new negative event. Therefore, we call this belief the ‘habituation fallacy’. Studies 2, 3 and 4 demonstrated an indirect negative effect of a belief in the ‘habituation fallacy’ on ‘helping intentions’, via lesser ‘trauma’ ascribed to victims who had previously been victimized. Studies 5 and 6 demonstrated that a belief in the ‘habituation fallacy’ causally affects trauma ascribed to, and helping intentions towards, repeatedly victimized victims, but not first-time victims. The habituation fallacy can potentially explain reluctance to donate to humanitarian causes in those geographical areas that frequently fall prey to disasters.

From the General Discussion

Taken together, these studies show a tendency to believe in the habituation fallacy. That is, they might believe that victims who have previously suffered are less affected by new adversity than victims who are first-time sufferers. Buy-in to the habituation fallacy means that victims of repeated adversity are assumed to suffer less, and that they are consequently helped less. Consistent evidence for this was found across
six studies, two of which were preregistered.

These results are important and add to the extant literature in significant ways.  Many factors have been discussed as driving disaster giving (see e.g., Albayrak, Aydemir, & Gleibs, 2021; Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011; Berman et al., 2018; Bloom, 2017; Cuddy et al., 2007; Dickert et al., 2011; Evangelidis & Van den Bergh, 2013; Hsee et al., 2013; Kogut, 2011; Kogut et al., 2015; van Leeuwen & Täuber, 2012; Zagefka & James, 2015).  Significant perceived suffering caused by an event is clearly a powerful factor that propels donors into action. However, although lay beliefs about disasters have been studied, lay beliefs about suffering by the victims have been neglected so far. Moreover, although clearly some areas of the world are visited more frequently by disasters than others, the potential effects of this on helping decisions have not previously been studied.

The present paper therefore addresses an important gap, by linking lay beliefs about disasters to both perceived previous victimization and perceived suffering of the victims.  Clearly, helping decisions are driven by emotional and often biased factors (Bloom, 2017), and this contribution sheds light on an important mechanism that is both affective and potentially biased in nature, thereby advancing our understanding of donor motivations (Chapman et al., 2020). 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Prosocial behavior and altruism: A review of concepts and definitions

Pfattheicher, S., Nielsen, Y. A., & Thielmann, I. 
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 23 August 2021


The field of prosociality is flourishing, yet researchers disagree about how to define prosocial behavior and often neglect defining it altogether. In this review, we provide an overview about the breadth of definitions of prosocial behavior and the related concept of altruism. Common to almost all definitions is an emphasis on the promotion of welfare in agents other than the actor. However, definitions of the two concepts differ in terms of whether they emphasize intentions and motives, costs and benefits, and the societal context. In order to improve on the conceptual ambiguity surrounding the study of prosociality, we urge researchers to provide definitions, to use operationalizations that match their definitions, and to acknowledge the diversity of prosocial behavior.

Concluding remarks

Together with many other researchers, we share the excitement about the study of prosocial behavior. To more strongly connect (abstract) theory and (concrete) behavior we need to carefully define and operationalize our constructs. More conceptual work is needed to clearly distinguish prosocial behavior from altruism and other types of prosocial behavior (such as cooperation and helping), and we should take care to avoid using the terms interchangeably. We hope that the present paper will encourage scholars targeting prosocial behavior or altruism in their research to use definitions more often and mindfully—to further develop the exciting field of prosocial behavior.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Prosocial Behavior and Reputation: When Does Doing Good Lead to Looking Good?

Berman, J. Z., & Silver, I.
(2021). Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 9 July 2021


One reason people engage in prosocial behavior is to reap the reputational benefits associated with being seen as generous. Yet, there isn’t a direct connection between doing good deeds and being seen as a good person. Rather, prosocial actors are often met with suspicion, and sometimes castigated as disingenuous braggarts, empty virtue-signalers, or holier-than-thou hypocrites. In this article, we review recent research on how people evaluate those who engage in prosocial behavior and identify key factors that influence whether observers will praise or denigrate a prosocial actor for doing a good deed.


Obligations to Personal Relations

One complicating factor that affects how actors are judged concerns whether they are donating to a cause that benefits a close personal relation. Recent theories of morality suggest that people see others as obligated to help close personal relations over distant strangers.  Despite these obligations, or perhaps because of them, prosocial actors are afforded less credit when they donate to causes that benefit close others: doing so is seen as relatively selfish compared to helping strangers. At the same time, helping a stranger instead of helping a close other is seen as a violation of one’s commitments and obligations, which can also damage one’s reputation. Understanding the role of relationship-specific obligations in judgments of selfless behavior is still nascent and represents an emerging area of research. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Extortion, intuition, and the dark side of reciprocity

Bernhard, R., & Cushman, F. A. 
(2021, April 22). 


Extortion occurs when one person uses some combination of threats and promises to extract an unfair share of benefits from another. Although extortion is a pervasive feature of human interaction, it has received relatively little attention in psychological research. To this end, we begin by observing that extortion is structured quite similarly to far better-studied “reciprocal” social behaviors, such as conditional cooperation and retributive punishment. All of these strategies are designed to elicit some desirable behavior from a social partner, and do so by constructing conditional incentives; the main difference is that the desired behavioral response is an unfair or unjust allocation of resources during extortion, whereas it is often a fair or just distribution of resources for reciprocal cooperation and punishment. Thus, we conjecture, a common set of psychological mechanisms may render these strategies successful. We know from prior work that prosocial forms of reciprocity often work best when implemented inflexibly and intuitively, rather than deliberatively. This both affords long-term commitment to the reciprocal strategy, and also signals this commitment to social partners. We argue that, for the same reasons, extortion is likely to depend largely upon inflexible, intuitive psychological processes. Several existing lines of circumstantial evidence support this conjecture.

From the Conclusion

An essential part of our analysis is to characterize strategies, rather than individual behaviors, as “prosocial” or “antisocial”.  Extortionate strategies can be  implemented by behaviors that “help” (as  in  the case of a manager who gives promotions to those who work uncompensated hours), while prosocial strategies can be implemented by behaviors that harm (as in the case of the CEO who finds out and reprimands this manager).   This manner of thinking at the level of strategies, rather than behavior, invites a broader realignment of our perspective on the relationship between intuition and social behavior. If our focus were on individual behaviors, we might have posed  the question, “Does intuition support cooperation or defection?”.  Framed  this way,  the recent literature could be taken to suggest the answer is “cooperation”—and,  therefore, that intuition promotes prosociality. Surely this is often true, but we suggest that intuitive cooperation can also serve antisocial ends. Meanwhile, as we have emphasized, a prosocial strategy such as TFT  may  benefit  from intuitive (reciprocal) defection. Quickly, the question, “Does intuition support cooperation or defection?”—and  any  implied  relationship to the question  “Does intuition support prosocial or antisocial behavior?”—begins to look ill-posed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

An evolutionary explanation for ineffective altruism

Burum, B., Nowak, M.A. & Hoffman, M. 
Nat Hum Behav (2020). 


We donate billions to charities each year, yet much of our giving is ineffective. Why are we motivated to give but not to give effectively? Building on evolutionary game theory, we argue that donors evolved (genetically or culturally) to be insensitive to efficacy because people tend not to reward efficacy, as social rewards tend to depend on well-defined and highly observable behaviours. We present five experiments testing key predictions of this account that are difficult to reconcile with alternative accounts based on cognitive or emotional limitations. Namely, we show that donors are more sensitive to efficacy when helping themselves or their families. Moreover, social rewarders don’t condition on efficacy or other difficult-to-observe behaviours, such as the amount donated.

From the Conclusion

This paper has argued that altruism in a behavioural sense is an act that benefits another person, while it is altruistically motivated when the ultimate goal of such act is the welfare of that other. In evolutionary sense, altruism means the sacrifice of fitness for the benefit of other organisms. 

According to the evolutionary theories of altruism, behaviour which promotes the reproductive success of the receiver at the cost of the altruist is favoured by natural selection, because it is either beneficial for the altruist in the long run, or for his genes, or for the group he belongs to. Thus, in line with Trivers, it can be argued that “models that attempt to explain altruistic behaviour in terms of natural selection are models designed to take the altruism out of altruism” (Trivers 1971: 35).

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Strategic Regulation of Empathy.

Weisz, E., & Cikara, M. (2020, October 9).


Empathy is an integral part of socio-emotional well-being, yet recent research has highlighted some of its downsides. Here we examine literature that establishes when, how much, and what aspects of empathy promote specific outcomes. After reviewing a theoretical framework which characterizes empathy as a suite of separable components, we examine evidence showing how dissociations of these components affect important socio-emotional outcomes and describe emerging evidence suggesting that these components can be independently and deliberately modulated. Finally, we advocate for a new approach to a multi-component view of empathy which accounts for the interrelations among components. This perspective advances scientific conceptualization of empathy and offers suggestions for tailoring empathy to help people realize their social, emotional, and occupational goals.

From the Conclusion

The goal of this review has been to evaluate the burgeoning literature on how components of empathy—in isolation or in concert—differentially affect key outcomes including prosocial behavior, relationship quality, occupational burnout, and negotiation. As such, an important takeaway from this review is that components of empathy can be leveraged to facilitate attainment of important goals. A second takeaway is that in order to effectively intervene on empathy in service of promoting specific outcomes, it is important to understand how these components track together (or not) in people’s everyday experiences. Relatedly, the field of empathy would benefit from thoroughly characterizing the structural and temporal relationships among these components to better understand how they work together (or in isolation) to drive key outcomes. 

Thus it seems that the time is right for the field of empathy research to enter anew wave, which explicitly examines the spontaneous separation or co-occurrence of dissociable empathy-related components, especially in behavioral—both laboratory and field—experiments. Several social neuroscience studies have indicated that this is an important aspect of empathy-related inquiry; as such, it is a promising next step for empathy-related research in more naturalistic contexts. The next wave of empathy research is in position to make incredibly important discoveries about when and for whom specific empathic components reliably predict behavioral outcomes, and to understand how empathy can be regulated to help people realize critical social, emotional and occupational goals.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Neural signatures of prosocial behaviors

Bellucci, G., Camilleri, J., and others
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume 118, November 2020, Pages 186-195


Prosocial behaviors are hypothesized to require socio-cognitive and empathic abilities—engaging brain regions attributed to the mentalizing and empathy brain networks. Here, we tested this hypothesis with a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 600 neuroimaging studies on prosociality, mentalizing and empathy (∼12,000 individuals). We showed that brain areas recruited by prosocial behaviors only partially overlap with the mentalizing (dorsal posterior cingulate cortex) and empathy networks (middle cingulate cortex). Additionally, the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortices were preferentially activated by prosocial behaviors. Analyses on the functional connectivity profile and functional roles of the neural patterns underlying prosociality revealed that in addition to socio-cognitive and empathic processes, prosocial behaviors further involve evaluation processes and action planning, likely to select the action sequence that best satisfies another person’s needs. By characterizing the multidimensional construct of prosociality at the neural level, we provide insights that may support a better understanding of normal and abnormal social cognition (e.g., psychopathy).


• A psychological proposal posits prosociality engages brain regions of the mentalizing and empathy networks.

• Our meta-analysis provides only partial support to this proposal.

• Prosocial behaviors engage brain regions associated with socio-cognitive and empathic abilities.

• However, they also engage brain regions associated with evaluation and planning.


Taken together, we found a set of brain regions that were consistently activated by prosocial behaviors. These activation patterns partially overlapped with mentalizing and empathy brain regions, lending support to the hypothesis based on psychological research that socio-cognitive and empathic abilities are central to prosociality. However, we also found that the vmPFC and, in particular, the dlPFC were preferentially recruited by prosocial acts, suggesting that prosocial behaviors require the involvement of other important processes. Analyses on their functional connectivity profile and functional roles suggest that the vmPFC and dlPFC might be involved in valuation and planning of prosocial actions, respectively. These results clarify the role of mentalizing and empathic abilities in prosociality and provides useful insights into the neuropsychological processes underlying human social behaviors. For instance, they might help understand where and how things go awry in different neural and behavioral disorders such as psychopathy and antisocial behavior (Blair, 2007).

The research is here.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now

Elizabeth Bernstein
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted 11 August 20

Here is an excerpt:

Kindness can even change your brain, says Stephanie Preston, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who studies the neural basis for empathy and altruism. When we’re kind, a part of the reward system called the nucleus accumbens activates—our brain responds the same way it would if we ate a piece of chocolate cake. In addition, when we see the response of the recipient of our kindness—when the person thanks us or smiles back—our brain releases oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone. This oxytocin boost makes the pleasure of the experience more lasting.

It feels so good that the brain craves more. “It’s an upward spiral—your brain learns it’s rewarding, so it motivates you to do it again,” Dr. Preston says.

Are certain acts of kindness better than others? Yes. If you want to reap the personal benefits, “you need to be sincere,” says Sara Konrath, a psychologist and associate professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where she runs a research lab that studies empathy and altruism.

It also helps to expect good results. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019 showed people who believed that kindness is good for them showed a greater increase in positive emotions, satisfaction with life and feelings of connection with others—as well as a greater decrease in negative emotions—than those who did not.

How can you be kind even when you may not feel like it? Make it a habit. Take stock of how you behave day to day. Are you trusting and generous? Or defensive and hostile? “Kindness is a lifestyle,” says Dr. Konrath.

Start by being kind to yourself—you’re going to burn out if you help everyone else and neglect your own needs. Remember that little acts add up: a smile, a phone call to a lonely friend, letting someone have the parking space. Understand the difference between being kind and being nice—kindness is genuinely helping or caring about someone; niceness is being polite. Don’t forget your loved ones. Kindness is not just for strangers.

The info is here.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Prosocial modeling: A meta-analytic review and synthesis

Jung, H., Seo, E., et al. (2020).
Psychological Bulletin, 146(8), 635–663.

Exposure to prosocial models is commonly used to foster prosocial behavior in various domains of society. The aim of the current article is to apply meta-analytic techniques to synthesize several decades of research on prosocial modeling, and to examine the extent to which prosocial modeling elicits helping behavior. We also identify the theoretical and methodological variables that moderate the prosocial modeling effect. Eighty-eight studies with 25,354 participants found a moderate effect (g = 0.45) of prosocial modeling in eliciting subsequent helping behavior. The prosocial modeling effect generalized across different types of helping behaviors, different targets in need of help, and was robust to experimenter bias. Nevertheless, there was cross-societal variation in the magnitude of the modeling effect, and the magnitude of the prosocial modeling effect was larger when participants were presented with an opportunity to help the model (vs. a third-party) after witnessing the model’s generosity. The prosocial modeling effect was also larger for studies with higher percentage of female in the sample, when other people (vs. participants) benefitted from the model’s prosocial behavior, and when the model was rewarded for helping (vs. was not). We discuss the publication bias in the prosocial modeling literature, limitations of our analyses and identify avenues for future research. We end with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

Impact Statement

Public Significance Statement: This article synthesizes several decades of research on prosocial modeling and shows that witnessing others’ helpful acts encourages prosocial behavior through prosocial goal contagion. The magnitude of the prosocial modeling effect, however, varies across societies, gender and modeling contexts. The prosocial modeling effect is larger when the model is rewarded for helping. These results have important implications for our understanding of why, how, and when the prosocial modeling effect occurs. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Uncertainty about the impact of social decisions increases prosocial behaviour

Kappes, A., Nussberger, A. M., et al.
Nature human behaviour, 2(8), 573–580.


Uncertainty about how our choices will affect others infuses social life. Past research suggests uncertainty has a negative effect on prosocial behavior by enabling people to adopt self-serving narratives about their actions. We show that uncertainty does not always promote selfishness. We introduce a distinction between two types of uncertainty that have opposite effects on prosocial behavior. Previous work focused on outcome uncertainty: uncertainty about whether or not a decision will lead to a particular outcome. But as soon as people’s decisions might have negative consequences for others, there is also impact uncertainty: uncertainty about how badly others’ well-being will be impacted by the negative outcome. Consistent with past research, we found decreased prosocial behavior under outcome uncertainty. In contrast, prosocial behavior was increased under impact uncertainty in incentivized economic decisions and hypothetical decisions about infectious disease threats. Perceptions of social norms paralleled the behavioral effects. The effect of impact uncertainty on prosocial behavior did not depend on the individuation of others or the mere mention of harm, and was stronger when impact uncertainty was made more salient. Our findings offer insights into communicating uncertainty, especially in contexts where prosocial behavior is paramount, such as responding to infectious disease threats.

From the Summary

To summarize, we show that uncertainty does not always decrease prosocial behavior; instead, the type of uncertainty matters. Replicating previous findings, we found that outcome uncertainty – uncertainty about the outcomes of decisions – made people behave more selfishly. However, impact uncertainty about how an outcome will impact another person’s well-being increased prosocial behavior, in economic and health domains. Examining closer the effect of impact uncertainty on prosociality, we show that for the increase in prosociality to occur, simply mentioning negative outcomes or inducing uncertainty about aspects of the other person unrelated to the negative outcome is not sufficient to increase prosociality. Rather, it seems that uncertainty relating to the impact of negative outcomes on others is needed to increase prosociality in our studies. Finally, we show that impact uncertainty is only effective when it is salient, thereby potentially overcoming people’s reluctance to contemplating the harm they might cause.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Personality and prosocial behavior: A theoretical framework and meta-analysis

Thielmann, I., Spadaro, G., & Balliet, D. (2020).
Psychological Bulletin, 146(1), 30–90.


Decades of research document individual differences in prosocial behavior using controlled experiments that model social interactions in situations of interdependence. However, theoretical and empirical integration of the vast literature on the predictive validity of personality traits to account for these individual differences is missing. Here, we present a theoretical framework that identifies 4 broad situational affordances across interdependent situations (i.e., exploitation, reciprocity, temporal conflict, and dependence under uncertainty) and more specific subaffordances within certain types of interdependent situations (e.g., possibility to increase equality in outcomes) that can determine when, which, and how personality traits should be expressed in prosocial behavior. To test this framework, we meta-analyzed 770 studies reporting on 3,523 effects of 8 broad and 43 narrow personality traits on prosocial behavior in interdependent situations modeled in 6 commonly studied economic games (Dictator Game, Ultimatum Game, Trust Game, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods Game, and Commons Dilemma). Overall, meta-analytic correlations ranged between −.18 ≤ ρ̂ ≤ .26, and most traits yielding a significant relation to prosocial behavior had conceptual links to the affordances provided in interdependent situations, most prominently the possibility for exploitation. Moreover, for several traits, correlations within games followed the predicted pattern derived from a theoretical analysis of affordances. On the level of traits, we found that narrow and broad traits alike can account for prosocial behavior, informing the bandwidth-fidelity problem. In sum, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical foundation that can guide future research on prosocial behavior and advance our understanding of individual differences in human prosociality.


Individual differences in prosocial behavior have consistently been documented over decades of research using economic games – and personality traits have been shown to account for such individual variation. The present meta-analysis offers an affordance-based theoretical framework that can illuminate which, when, and how personality traits relate to prosocial behavior across various interdependent situations. Specifically, the framework and meta-analysis identify a few situational affordances that form the basis for the expression of certain traits in prosocial behavior. In this regard, the meta-analysis also shows that no single trait is capable to account for individual variation in prosocial behavior across the variety of interdependent situations that individuals may encounter in everyday social interactions.  Rather, individual differences in prosocial behavior are best viewed as a result of traits being expressed in response to certain situational features that influence the affordances involved in interdependent situations. In conclusion, research on individual differences in prosocial behavior – and corresponding trait conceptualizations – should consider the affordances
provided in interdependent situations to allow for a complete understanding of how personality can shape the many aspects of human prosociality.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment

B. R. House and others
Proceedings of The Royal Society
Biological Sciences, 28720192794 (2020)


Human cooperation is probably supported by our tendency to punish selfishness in others. Social norms play an important role in motivating third-party punishment (TPP), and also in explaining societal differences in prosocial behaviour. However, there has been little work directly linking social norms to the development of TPP across societies. In this study, we explored the impact of normative information on the development of TPP in 603 children aged 4–14, across six diverse societies. Children began to perform TPP during middle childhood, and the developmental trajectories of this behaviour were similar across societies. We also found that social norms began to influence the likelihood of performing TPP during middle childhood in some of these societies. Norms specifying the punishment of selfishness were generally more influential than norms specifying the punishment of prosocial behaviour. These findings support the view that TPP of selfishness is important in all societies, and its development is shaped by a shared psychology for responding to normative information. Yet, the results also highlight the important role that children's prior knowledge of local norms may play in explaining societal variation in the development of both TPP and prosociality.

From the Conclusion and Discussion Section

Children's bias towards punishing selfish third parties increased during middle childhood, and this developmental pattern is similar across societies. Middle childhood is also when children across diverse societies become more prosocial and more averse to advantageous inequity. This raises the possibility that prosociality, advantageous inequity aversion and TPP may be developmentally coupled. In each of these cases, individuals incur personal costs to produce fairer outcomes for others. One explanation for this is that children become more responsive to social norms during middle childhood, leading them to become more likely to conform to social norms. This is consistent with our finding that norm primes begin to shape behaviour during middle childhood (although TPP norm primes were not effective in all societies).

The research is here.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract

Volunteers cart food donations from a local food bank through the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in east London, Britain, March 31, 2020. Picture taken March 31. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYEditorial Board
Financial Times
Originally published 3 April 20

If there is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it has injected a sense of togetherness into polarised societies. But the virus, and the economic lockdowns needed to combat it, also shine a glaring light on existing inequalities — and even create new ones. Beyond defeating the disease, the great test all countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose will shape society after the crisis. As western leaders learnt in the Great Depression, and after the second world war, to demand collective sacrifice you must offer a social contract that benefits everyone.

Today’s crisis is laying bare how far many rich societies fall short of this ideal. Much as the struggle to contain the pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of health systems, so the brittleness of many countries’ economies has been exposed, as governments scramble to stave off mass bankruptcies and cope with mass unemployment. Despite inspirational calls for national mobilisation, we are not really all in this together.

The economic lockdowns are imposing the greatest cost on those already worst off. Overnight millions of jobs and livelihoods have been lost in hospitality, leisure and related sectors, while better paid knowledge workers often face only the nuisance of working from home. Worse, those in low-wage jobs who can still work are often risking their lives — as carers and healthcare support workers, but also as shelf stackers, delivery drivers and cleaners.

The info is here.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The cultural evolution of prosocial religions

Norenzayan, A., and others.
(2016). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, E1.


We develop a cultural evolutionary theory of the origins of prosocial religions and apply it to resolve two puzzles in human psychology and cultural history: (1) the rise of large-scale cooperation among strangers and, simultaneously, (2) the spread of prosocial religions in the last 10–12 millennia. We argue that these two developments were importantly linked and mutually energizing. We explain how a package of culturally evolved religious beliefs and practices characterized by increasingly potent, moralizing, supernatural agents, credible displays of faith, and other psychologically active elements conducive to social solidarity promoted high fertility rates and large-scale cooperation with co-religionists, often contributing to success in intergroup competition and conflict. In turn, prosocial religious beliefs and practices spread and aggregated as these successful groups expanded, or were copied by less successful groups. This synthesis is grounded in the idea that although religious beliefs and practices originally arose as nonadaptive by-products of innate cognitive functions, particular cultural variants were then selected for their prosocial effects in a long-term, cultural evolutionary process. This framework (1) reconciles key aspects of the adaptationist and by-product approaches to the origins of religion, (2) explains a variety of empirical observations that have not received adequate attention, and (3) generates novel predictions. Converging lines of evidence drawn from diverse disciplines provide empirical support while at the same time encouraging new research directions and opening up new questions for exploration and debate.

The paper is here.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why are smarter individuals more prosocial? A study on the mediating roles of empathy and moral identity

Qingke Guoa, Peng Suna, Minghang Caia, Xiling Zhang, & Kexin Song
Volume 75, July–August 2019, Pages 1-8


The purpose of this study is to examine whether there is an association between intelligence and prosocial behavior (PSB), and whether this association is mediated by empathy and moral identity. Chinese version of the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices, the Self-Report Altruism Scale Distinguished by the Recipient, Interpersonal Reactivity Index, and the Internalization subscale of the Self-Importance of Moral Identity Scale were administered to 518 (N female = 254, M age = 19.79) undergraduate students. The results showed that fluid intelligence was significantly correlated with self-reported PSB; moral identity, perspective taking, and empathic concern could account for the positive association between intelligence and PSB; the mediation effects of moral identity and empathy were consistent across gender.

The article is here.

Here is part of the Discussion:

This is consistent with previous findings that highly intelligent individuals are more likely to engage in prosocial and civic activities (Aranda & Siyaranamual, 2014; Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011; Wiepking & Maas, 2009). One explanation of the intelligence-prosocial association is that highly intelligent individuals are better able to perceive and understand the desires and feelings of the person in need, and are quicker in making proper decisions and figuring out which behaviors should be enacted (Eisenberg et al., 2015; Gottfredson, 1997). Another explanation is that highly intelligent individuals are smart enough to realize that PSB is rewarding in the long run. PSB is rewarding because the helper is more likely to be selected as a coalition partner or a mate (Millet & Dewitte, 2007; Zahavi, 1977).