Altruistic Behavior Activities

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

This asset offers multiple activities designed to help your students explore altruism. The activities are hands-on, interactive and engaging, using active collaborative work as well as individual effort.

Why Use Activities on Altruism?

Altruism is an amazing characteristic that can be found among both humans and animals--having both the ability and willingness to help another. These two aspects, being able to help and being willing to help, are key; without one aspect we cannot attribute any behavior or lack of action to altruism.

The following activities are designed for upper middle school and/or lower high school-aged students. They will actively investigate the concept of altruism and evaluate reasons to help or not help in a rational and safe way.

Secret Identity

  • Set-up: On index cards, write character scenarios for each of your students. Some examples might be:
    • You are a parent with your three young children walking with you.
    • You have just had surgery on your back and are very weak.
    • You are a pro wrestler and in very good health.
    • You are on your way to an interview for a much-needed job.
  • To begin the activity, divide your class into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Ask each group to work together to come up with a real-world scenario in which people may choose to help or not help. These could be school related or set in a public place, like a store or park. The group will act out the scenario.
  • Now, hand out the index cards, asking students to keep their cards private.
  • Pair up groups to act out their scenarios and respond.
    • For example, Group 1 might act out a scenario in which someone may need help, and members of Group 2 might respond to the scenario appropriately according to each member's secret identity (on the cards).
  • Then, the roles swap so that Group 2 acts out their own scenario and Group 1 responds to it.
  • After each scenario and response, discuss who helped and who didn't.
  • Ask each person to explain their reasoning for their own actions. Have a discussion about which related to altruism (able and willing) and which did not (missing an attribute).
  • Continue until all students have both participated in a scenario and responded to another scenario.

Animals are Altruistic

Another characteristic of altruism is that the helper will not benefit (or does not believe he/she will benefit) from providing assistance. In the animal kingdom, we see altruism as acts of one animal that risks that animal's continued ability to add to the gene pool for the benefit of non-offspring. It doesn't happen in many species--helping others without genetic benefit--but it does happen.

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