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What is Altruism in Social Psychology? - Origins & Social Influence

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  • 0:36 Biological Instincts
  • 0:48 Social Responsibility Norm
  • 1:06 Social Exchange Theory
  • 1:51 Bystander Effect
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Polly Peterson
Why do we help others, and when do we decide not to help others? In this lesson, you'll take a look at the biological and social motivation behind altruism.

When we write articles for Wikipedia, volunteer our time to charity or do anything for the greater good without expecting payment or rewards in return, we are being altruistic. Why are we compelled to help others? Do we do it because it makes us feel good to contribute to society? Or, is it an instinct of group survival?

Origins of Altruism

Law enforcement officials and firefighters are expected to help others despite the costs
Social-Responsibility-Norm

We have biological instincts to help others. We gain an evolutionary advantage when we help our own family members survive and continue contributing to the gene pool.

Following the social responsibility norm, we expect firefighters, law enforcement officials, parents, teachers and other responsible leaders to help others even if it comes at a cost. Social learning happens when we see our heroes helping others and then proceed to model our behavior on their actions. We may see their good deeds in real life or on TV.

Social Influences

Now that we've considered why we help, let's look at some factors that inhibit altruism.

  1. Social exchange theory states that we work towards balancing the amount of effort that parties are putting into social relationships. According to this theory, we will continue to help other people until we feel that we're not getting the same amount of help in return.

Say you've helped your friend move two times in the past two years, and you ask him if he can lend you a hand now that you're moving to a new apartment. The polite thing for your friend to do is reciprocate and return the favor. If he says no, you might not help him again the next time he asks for help.

Even if our original intention isn't to benefit ourselves, we're more likely to continue helping if we receive rewards, such as help when we need it ourselves, social status and recognition.

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