Lecture 07 - Social Psych

Altruism and aggression


(Adapted from the Handbook of Social Psychology; "Helping Behavior and altruism", by John F. Dovidio; Meyers)

1. Levels of analysis

a. Biological - "nature"

b. cultural/normative - or "nurture"

c. Personality

d. Situational

e. Affective (or "mood")

f. cognitive

2. Biological

a. Historically, there have been two biological viewpoints of human beings:

1. Most popular view says humans inherit "primitive" nature, which must be controlled by society. Selfishness, aggression, and other weaknesses are due to inadequate suppression of genetically based instincts. "Original sin" model.

2. Alternative viewpoint says humans are basically good, but culture corrupts them. "Natural goodness" models.

3. Current biological theory is more complex than either of these.

b. Aggression.

1. Darwin's theory of evolution is most powerful bio explanation. "Natural selection" - the fittest survive, and pass on their genes to their offspring; those who don't survive do not have their genes passed on.

Popular view is that evolution encourages competitiveness, aggressiveness. Those who prevail are those who defeat their rivals.

2. But aggression is just one of many strategies. You can retreat, or hide.

3. Aggression can be bad. Requires a lot of energy. You run the risk of injury or death. Hence, dispositions to aggress should only emerge when aggression enhances fitness - such as when resources are insufficient.

4. Aggression toward in-group members is generally different than aggression to out-group members. Out-group aggression tends to be more lethal. You don't want to jeopardize the ability of the group to prevail in between-group competitions.

5. We, and other species, have developed biologically-based inhibitory mechanisms against aggression. It is important to realize, however, that throughout most of our evolutionary history, most aggression had to be face-to-face. Today, we are quite capable of killing on a large scale, without ever having to face our enemies; hence, we no longer face the biologically-based inhibitory mechanisms that we used to. Hence, it has been argued that the potential for human aggression is far greater today.

c. Altruism.

1. Darwinian theory is popularly viewed as inconsistent with the evolution of prosocial behaviors. Altruism enhances net fitness of another individual at some net cost to one's own fitness. Dispositions toward altruism should decrease the chances of survival of the altruistic individual - they should become extinct. That is, those with altruistic genes will diminish as they sacrifice themselves for the group, whereas the more selfish individual will not.

2. However, any characteristic that is adaptive may evolve. There are many cases where it is better to cooperate than it is to try to dominate and destroy. Helping behaviors may reap rewards in the future. For example, it is in the individual's best genetic interest to help save a drowning person if the costs of helping are low and if the act of helping increases the probability that the beneficiary will help the altruist in the future. Hence, systems of reciprocity can be genetically beneficial.

3. However, a group which aided others unconditionally would eventually be overrun by non-reciprocating cheaters. If reciprocity were vital to the survival of the species, the species could eventually become extinct. In order for reciprocity to work, it must be conditional: Cheaters must not prosper.

4. modern evolutionary theory assumes that it is not individual fitness that fosters the evolution of characteristics; rather it is inclusive fitness - they can propagate their genes by enhancing the fitness of those who possess replicas of them, that is their relatives. When we help our relatives, we are helping our genetic selves.

5. this explains altruism toward relatives, but not toward others. Possible explanations:

a. early humans may not have been able to distinguish between relatives and non-relatives - hence they went with correlates of genetic relatedness - physical similarity, proximity, familiarity

b. as human society evolved, there must have been extreme selective pressures in favor of our ability to cooperate as a group. Hunting, food gathering require cooperation. Those who cooperated were the ones who passed on their genes.

d. To sum up; dispositions toward altruism would be expected to be evoked primarily by kin and individuals who resemble kin. Humans should possess quite strong dispositions to cooperate with members of their ingroups. Dispositions to aggress should be evoked primarily by outgroup members who are perceived as competing for scarce resources.

3. Cultural/normative influences - "nurture"

a. Emphasis is on how norms affect altruistic and aggressive behavior. How do norms originate, in what ways do norms influence behavior, how are norms evoked in particular situations

b. How do norms originate in a culture? Why do some norms prevail while others become extinct? Cultural evolution has been suggested. Particular norms and conventions are selected in terms of their ability to enhance the adaptiveness of the groups that espouse them. The argument here is very similar to the one in biology for "survival of the fittest." Particular norms are selected because of their ability to enhance the adaptiveness of the groups that espouse them.

Some say that because the well-being of individuals is dependent on the well-being of the groups of which they are members, it is in most individual biological self-interest to accept "norms, rules, and cultural controls on excessively selfish individual behaviors". Norms favoring cooperation and reciprocity, altruism toward close relatives, and aggression against outgroup members should prevail, but norms favoring self-sacrificial altruism to non-relatives should evolve only in highly specialized circumstances.

c. How do norms come to be adopted by the individual?

1. Socialization - In explaining the influence of norms, most theories adopt a developmental model involving the transformation of children from unsocialized animals to civilized citizens of society. Original sin theories tend to view socialization as a process through which adults attempt to curb what Hobbes termed "the recurrent barbarian invasion" from each new generation. Natural goodness theories tend to view socialization more as a process of self-actualization. The evidence suggests that socialization involves both behavior conformity, internalization of norms and values, and the development of more autonomous internal principles.

2. Learning theory approaches. Say that helping develops rewarding properties in the same manner as do other types of behavior.

a. Reinforcement. People learn to help others because they have made helping responses that have been positively reinforced in the past. Praise and rewards have been shown to make people more generous. Many studies have shown that approval positively affects the incidence of aggression. Behavior learned through conditioning is internalized behavior.

b. Modeling. Models can affect helping by providing examples of how to perform aggressive or altruistic acts, by reminding observers of norms and appropriate behaviors. The consequences of a model's behavior influences an observer's perceptions of costs and rewards. Learning aggressive responses through modeling is particularly adaptive because the inevitable mistakes that occur in trial and error learning are so costly. Models may instigate aggressive behavior by (a) implicitly or explicitly indicating that aggression is an appropriate or permissible response (b) disinhibiting observers from constraining themselves (c) stimulating emotional arousal (d) directing the attention of observers to various objects that can be employed aggressively. Studies show that when you see models being rewarded for aggression, you're more likely to be aggressive yourself.

d. What norms do people follow - and when? Research has focused on the conditions that elicit normative behavior in specific situations.

1. Norms of aiding, or Social responsibility - People should help those who are dependent on them for assistance - for example, children, disabled, others who are in need. This norm is not always reflected in behavior - whether or not we help those in need has been shown to depend on several factors.

a. People are more likely to help a person whose dependency is seen as caused by forces beyond the individual's control than to assist people whose dependency is seen as reflecting personal weakness.

b. the helper's psych. state, helper-victim relationship, the context affect whether norm will be expressed behaviorally. (We'll discuss these more later).

2. Norm of fairness. One such norm is reciprocity - People should help those who have helped them, and people should not injure those who have helped them. Four factors affect the impact of the reciprocity norm -

a. the need of the recipient

b. the resources of the donor. Consider not only the size of the previous help, but what portion of the donor's resources it represented.

c. the motives of the donor. We are suspicious of people who are overly generous. People dislike benefactors they cannot repay.

d. amount of freedom the donor has to behave in a non-normative manner. Help that is given voluntarily increases reciprocity because it implies good intentions.

Another fairness norm is equity. Individuals should attempt to maintain a balance between the ratio of their inputs to their outcomes and the ratio of the inputs/outcomes of those with whom they interact.

3. Approaches which stress norms have been criticized.

a. If norms are widespread, why do individuals differ in the extent to which they help?

b. What about cases where norms conflict? Social responsibility may obligate us to help an abused wife, but norms against meddling tell us not to intervene.

4. Schwartz has therefore proposed a theory of personal norms. This theory not only explains the conditions under which norms are likely to motivate helping, but also individual differences in helping in particular situations. According to this theory, three phases of decision-making precede overt helping:

a. Awareness - Must be aware a person is in need, there are actions that could relieve the need, must realize one is in a position to provide help.

b. Motivation - We weigh how well the acts represent our internalized moral values and the social and material costs and benefits of our potential acts.

c. Defense - If our motivations for and against helping are nearly equal, we try to reduce our conflict and avoid helping by neutralizing our personal norms. Deny the other really needs help, deny effective action is possible, deny responsibility.

3. Situational

a. Bystander effects.

1. Background. Interest in bystander effects was prompted by the famous Kitty Genovese case. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was knifed to death in the parking lot of her apt. building in New York City. While this is quite shocking, it is hardly uncommon. The case drew national attention when it was revealed that 38 people had witnessed the murder (which took 35 minutes), yet none had aided the victim or called the police.

The incident inspired a lot of talk about the deterioration of modern society, but it also led to a great deal of research on prosocial behavior - what is it that makes people helpful, sharing, charitable, and generous to others?

One of the ideas that came to be advanced was that, before individuals will act, they first have to take personal responsibility - that is, they have to feel that it is their duty to intervene. Latane and Darley theorized that the knowledge that others have witnessed an event inhibits the taking of personal responsibility; that is, there is a diffusion of responsibility when there are multiple witnesses to an act, and as a result, any one individual is less likely to take action.

To test their hypothesis, Latane and Darley conducted a laboratory experiment. Students were asked to participate in a discussion about personal problems associated with college life. Each student was taken into a room with a microphone. The experimenter told the students that, in order to avoid embarrassment, all discussants would remain anonymous; further, the experimenter would not listen to their discussion, but would get their reactions afterward via questionnaire. Now, of course, since the experimenter wouldn't be there, there had to be some kind of organization; so, students were told that each discussants microphone would remain on for a period of 2 minutes, and all other microphones would be off during that time.

Unfortunately, while one of the discussants was speaking, he suddenly went into an epileptic seizure. Further, since his was the only live mike, there was no way of knowing whether anyone else was doing anything to help him. Fortunately, the epileptic fit was a fake; in fact, it was tape-recorded, as were all the speeches of the other members of the discussion "group."

Darley and Latane wanted to see whether, and how fast, students would go out to seek help, and they wanted to see whether this would vary with the size of the group. Some students were told that only they and the epileptic were in the group, others thought that it was a three person group, and still others believed that there were six members to the group.

They found that, when subjects thought they alone knew of the victims plight, every one of them eventually went for help. However, when subjects thought there were 6 people in the group, only 62% ever went for help, and they did so much less quickly than those in the 2 person groups. They therefore concluded that situational factors (in this case, the number of other observers) could affect the likelihood of an individual giving help.

Why do bystander effects occur?

2. Most emergencies begin as ambiguous events. A quarrel may erupt into violence, or it may just be a family argument. Before a bystander takes action, s/he must decide that intervention is the proper course of action.

We often look at the reactions of others to see how they define the situation. Unfortunately, their apparent reactions may not be a good indicator of their true feelings. We want to appear poised and collected during times of stress. When exposed to public view, we try to avoid ridicule and embarrassment. Hence, everybody tries to appear calm, creating the impression that an emergency is not taking place. This is informational influence. You can also call this pluralistic ignorance.

EX: Subjects were in a room, either alone or with tow other naive subjects. Smoke started to fill the room. Those who were alone were much more likely to report the smoke than those who were in the room with others.

EX: Subjects heard a woman falling in another room. Were less likely to help when another person was present. Non-intervenors reported they did not think the problem was serious.

2. There is also the diffusion of responsibility effect. If only one bystander is present at an emergency, s/he carries all the responsibility for dealing with it. Presence of other people reduces the "cost" of not acting by diffusing the guilt or blame among several individuals. Also, Bystanders may assume someone else has taken action.

b. Some situational characteristics can focus responsibility and increase helping.

1. Put an individual in a position of authority.

EX: One study found that virtually everyone who had been asked to watch a confederate's belongings intervened to stop a "thief" from stealing a radio or suitcase; in contrast, approximately 2/3 of those who were not asked did not.

2. Clearness of the situation - can you see whether or not help is being provided by others?

3. Characteristics of the victim.

EX (for 2 and 3): Piliavin, Rodin, and Piliavin were also interested in helping behavior. They thought that one potential problem with Latane and Darley's work was that the emergency was only heard, and not seen. They thought that, if visual cues were also available, the emergency would seem more real, especially if it was obvious that the victim was not being helped. They also thought that willingness to help might be affected by characteristics of the victim.

To test their hypothesis, they conducted a field experiment using the New York Subway system. Investigators boarded a train that made a 7.5 minute trip. One investigator served as the "victim", while the others would record data as unobtrusively as possible for the duration of the ride. This data included the number of people who were in the train. The "victims" always wore the same clothes, but on some trials, they would appear to be drunk, while on other trials they would appear sober but be carrying a black cane. About 70 seconds into the trip the "victim" would stagger forward and collapse. The dependent variables were the number of observers who came to the victim's aid, and how quickly they did so. They found that drunk victims did not receive help as much help or as quick help as the victims carrying canes. However, there was no evidence for a diffusion of responsibility effect - the number of witnesses to the collapse did not affect helping. They therefore concluded that, when individuals can actually see the emergency (instead of just hearing) and know whether or not help is being given, there is no diffusion of responsibility effect; or, if there is such an effect, it is outweighed by the additional number of observers that can take action (that is, any one individual may be less likely to take action, but since there are more witnesses it is more likely that at least one of them will do something).

4. Victim-bystander relationship. More likely to respond to the distress of similar than dissimilar others. Feelings of similarity promote helping.

c. Deindividuation - temporary loss of self-awareness brought on by situational conditions. Anonymity, crowds, drugs can produce. A deindividuated individual is less aware of personal standards and less concerned with self and other evaluation. Hence, less prone to feel the guilt, shame, or fear we normally would - making us more likely to perform behaviors that would normally be inhibited.

d. Crowding. Urbanization and urban crowding have raised many concerns. It has been argued that population density produces psychopathology, crime, violent or aggressive behavior. What arguments support this viewpoint?

1. Georg Simmel said crowding "intensified nervous stimulation"

2. Urbanization encourages impersonality and leads to people exploiting one another.

3. Role strain - the more people there are, the more we have to interact, and the more difficult it is to fulfill role expectations.

4. Cultural factors. Some cultures need more space than others.

Relevant evidence:

1. Studies on rats and other animals showed that crowding led to disruption of social functions and to social disorganization, and to physiological distress that made it difficult to have children and care for them.

2. Some studies have shown negative effects of crowding on social relationships.

Overall, there is not much evidence of physiological and psychological harm, perhaps because of the ability of humans to cope. Freedman offers the argument that density intensifies the individual's typical reactions to the situation. If he would ordinarily find the situation pleasant, he will have a more positive reaction under conditions of high density. If he would ordinarily find it unpleasant, high density will aggravate the problem.

It may also be that density hasn't been studied very well. Day and Day take exception to claims that, based on comparisons with other countries, the U.S. is underpopulated. For example, some note that the density of population is 30 times greater in the Netherlands than the United States. This is called the "Netherlands fallacy" because it doesn't view density within its particular environmental, social, and demographic context. (1) Comparisons are made on the basis of average measures, which ignore patterns of settlement. Many areas in the U.S. are sparsely populated, others highly populated (2) Cultural differences that could affect population carrying capacity are ignored. Our emphasis on local government, privatism, our affluence, heterogeneity, our growth ethos all make it difficult for us to cope with the problems of increasing population.

4. Affective - how people feel explains their behavior.

a. Frustration-aggression hypothesis

1. Dollard et al said that frustration always leads to aggression and that aggression always stems from frustration. Frustration, according to Dollard, is anything that blocks one's attaining a goal.

Contemporary theory says

Frustrating event -> anger -> aggression -> reduction in anger, aggression


2. Frustration does not always lead to anger. For example, if the frustration is understandable (produced by reasonable accident or mistake) aggression does not increase.

3. things besides frustration can produce anger (insults, pain) - anger can even become "conditioned"

4. Relationship between anger and aggression has not been clearly demonstrated. Berkowitz says anger leads to aggression only when aggressive cues are present in the situation (stimuli that have been associated with aggression in the individual experience)

5. Catharsis effects have been debated. Although some studies have found that individuals aggress less after behaving aggressively, others have found that behaving aggressively facilitates subsequent aggression. Studies show that people are more hostile after seeing football and hockey games. After a war, a nation's murder rate tends to go up. Why?

a. Aggression may reduce inhibitions

b. people may feel need for consistency - hence will act aggressively in subsequent situations.

c. initial act of aggression may be reinforced by drive reduction, feelings of power, social feedback.

b. Emotional arousal

1. can affect aggression. EX: Pornography. A number of studies have shown that sexual arousal affects aggression - but the relationship is not consistent. Baron contends that low levels of sexual arousal decrease aggression, but high levels increase aggression. Low levels may distract people from provocation and consequently inhibit aggression; high arousal may energize people, increasing aggression.

2. Affect and altruism. People are aroused by the distress of others. This arousal is unpleasant, so observers are motivated to reduce it. Greater levels of arousal are associated with faster rates of intervention.

c. Good and bad moods.

1. Good moods generally promote helping.

a. They reduce self-preoccupation (making empathy possible)

b. increase feelings of relative good fortune.

c. make you think positive thoughts, which leads to prosocial action.

2. Bad moods - results are inconsistent.

a. often inhibit helping because they increase self-preoccupation and reduce feelings of relative fortune. When not self-preoccupied, sad people are often sensitive, helpful people.

b. When costs are low, people may attempt to relieve bad feelings through helping.

c. Guilt promotes helping because helping boosts transgressors esteem. Studies show that people who have accidentally injured someone or caused some damage show an increase in helpfulness.

5. Cognitive

a. Perceived costs affect helping. Individuals try to minimize costs and maximize rewards.

1. Costs include injury, effort, and embararrassment.

2. Can be also costly to not help. Risk guilt, public censure. May suffer because you empathize with the victim.

3. Cognitive reinterpretation is one way of dealing with the costs of not helping. Can define the situation as less serious. Also, People often respond not by helping, but by derogating the victim! According to the just-world hypothesis, people have a need to believe the world is fair so that they can maintain feelings of control over their own eventual fate. The observation of an innocent person suffering disconfirms this view and threatens one's own fate. Thus, to protect feelings of security people become motivated to respond in ways that will make things seem fair again. If helping is a possibility, most people will choose to intervene. However, if the person cannot be helped, the just-world hypothesis suggests that bystanders will disparage the victim, thus making the world right again - a world in which people get what they deserve.

b. Aggression is affected by cognitions concerning

1. motivation and intent - did someone else mean to harm you?

2. inferences about consequences - what will happen if you aggress?

3. salience of victim's pain cues - we behave less aggressively when we can see the pain.

6. Personality

a. Little clear evidence of the effect of personality on altruism. Altruists have internal locus of control, feel social responsibility, are inner-directed, nurturing.

b. Aggressive personality has been examined - especially with extremely violent individuals.

1. Have "self-indulgent compensators" - has very low opinion of himself, responds aggressively to slightest provocation.

2. "self-indulger" - others exist simply to satisfy his needs and wants. When people do not cater to his whims, he resorts to "treachery" with violence.

3. "self-defender" - possesses intense fear of others, attacks to avoid being attacked.