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Psychology of Helping Others

Instructor: Joshua Mummert

Josh teaches Special Education courses for graduate students. He has a Master's of Science in Psychology and is in the process of earning his Ph.D in Psychology.

In this lesson, we will understand the three primary psychological theories as to why people help one another. We will also describe the essential components of the three theories and identify altruistic behavior.

Psychology of Helping Others

Consider the following situation...

You are at a local fair with your friends and all of a sudden, a man approaches you and tries to take your wallet from you. Before you can yell for help, the man is tackled by a complete stranger and is held down until police arrive. The man hands you back your wallet and walks away.

Now, why would someone jump in to help you when they don't even know who you are? In a more extreme situation, why do people risk their lives to help complete strangers when disasters strike?

Psychological models

Social psychologists have explored this at great length, and as a result, many theories have emerged. Three primary models exist to explain helping behavior.

Evolutionary Model

The first model is the evolutionary model. The evolutionary model maintains that people are naturally inclined to help one another because it contributes to the survival of the species. This is especially true in situations that are considered low or moderate risk.

In higher risk situations, however, a phenomenon called kin selection occurs. Kin selection mandates that people are more likely to help their relatives during high risk situations, which will result in like genes to carry on. As has been the theme of evolutionary theory in general, the primary objective for helping behavior is to continue the survival of humans as a species.

Egoistic Model

The second psychological theory of why humans help others is the motivational model.

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