Altruism is a voluntary helping behaviour which is not motivated by rewards or the anticipation of a reward. One explanation of human altruism is Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis. This theory states that altruistic behaviour is the result of empathy, a consistent emotional response between the helper and the individual in need. The helper would feel sympathy after seeing a distressed individual and will then try to alleviate this distress.
Empathy itself contains several components which include; perspective talking (the ability to take on another individual’s point of view), empathetic concern (concern for the welfare of the distressed individual) and personal distress (emotional reaction experience when seeing a distressed individual). A study by Roker et al 1998 found that British adolescents showed high levels or altruistic behaviour, supporting the view that people help for different reasons other than to reduce their own personal distress. Research has found that those high in empathetic concern were more likely to help others.
Batson’s 1981 study on ’empathy condition’ found that individuals high in empathetic concern were likely to help even if escape for themselves was possible. Fultz investigated the effects that disapproval had on helping behaviour. As Batson those with high empathy helped more than the low empathy group. It was also discovered that levels of helping was in fact lower in the anonymous group, consistent with the views in the empathy-altruism model. Egoistic factors are only employed to help make a decision whether or not to help if empathy is not present. Another explanation is Cialdini’s negative-state relief model.
This theory suggests that we help others in order to ease our own negative state. This behaviour is personally rewarding and is learned in childhood. Unlike the empathy-altruism hypothesis, the negative-state relief model is egoistic as we seek to relieve our own emotions by helping another individual thus improving our own mood and feeling a sense of personal gain. A study that supports this view by Cialdini (1987) found that the introduction of a bonus, reduced the high empathy participants tendency to help, the bonus filled in the need to help and individual in order to alleviate our negative state.
Manucia (1984) found in his mood freezing study that individuals only helped if they believed the experience would improve their own emotional state. As well as helping in order to improve their emotional state, it has also been established that individuals offer help to continue and extend their good mood. Isen and Leven (1972) found that 84% of the individuals who found the money in the phone booth helped to pick up the dropped papers, compared to only 4% of those that did not find the money.
These results challenge the view that help is only offered in order to improve an individual’s mood, it is also offered to prolong their existing good mood. There is still a debate regarding the reason why we help others, it is still unknown whether we do this for egoistic or altruistic reasons. Batson suggested one way in which these contradictory feelings can be explained, arguing that empathetic concern is more likely to be felt if there is a close attachment to the person in distress as opposed to distress being felt when there is no or little relationship.