Prosocial Behavior: How Gender and Culture Predict Helping

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  • 0:05 Why Do People Help Others?
  • 0:48 Gender and Prosocial Behavior
  • 2:08 Culture and Prosocial Behavior
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Social psychologists have found that both gender and culture help to predict people's prosocial behavior. In this lesson, we look at both of these factors and how they affect helping behaviors.

Why Do People Help Others?

Have you heard the story of the Good Samaritan? In it, a man is walking down a road when he is mugged and left for dead. Two religious men walk by and both cross the street to avoid the dying man. But a Samaritan, a member of a group that hated the dying man's culture, stopped to help out.

Why do some people help others while some cross the street to avoid it? This is a question that social psychologists have tried for many years to answer. They have found many reasons why people engage in prosocial behavior, or actions that help other people. Two things that affect whether or not you're willing to help others are your gender and your culture.

Gender and Prosocial Behavior

Quick: who helps others out more, men or women? If you're like most people, you probably think that women are more likely to do prosocial deeds. And, you'd sort of be right.

Lots of studies have been done on whether men or women help others out more, and they've found different things depending on what the situation is. When there are dozens or even hundreds of studies done on a topic like this, psychologists often read them all and then try to find patterns across the studies. This is called doing a meta-analysis.

Meta-analyses of the studies on prosocial behavior and gender have found several patterns. In general, women are more likely to help others out - but just barely. Considering gender stereotypes, the difference in girls and boys isn't very pronounced.

However, there are other interesting differences in the types of help that people offer. Women are more likely to offer nurturing help. That is, they are likely to lend an ear to a friend in need or offer their couch for someone who doesn't have a place to stay. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to help out in chivalrous ways: stepping in to defend a girl from being harassed or helping an old lady carry her groceries from her car to her door.

Culture and Prosocial Behavior

Think back again to the story of the Samaritan who helped out. One of the surprising twists in the story is that the two people who are part of a group that are expected to help out (religious and of the same race as the man hurting) don't, while the man from a group not expected to help out (an enemy of the guy hurting) does. Why is this surprising?

Psychologists have found that one major predictor of whether someone will help or not is whether they belong to the same group as the person in need. For example, an Irish-American is more likely to help another Irish-American than a person from another cultural group. Likewise, Americans are more likely to help Americans than they are to help, say, a French or a German person.

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