Prosocial Behavior


Prosocial behavior is a relatively new concept in social psychology. It denotes a specific type of the behavioral pattern that is characterized by the high level of empathy, sympathy, and support. In other words, prosocial behavior marks such a model of behavior which orients on the mutual help, understanding, and respect. Prosocial behavior is a complex concept that includes different displays of altruism, sympathy, and volunteering. However, the theoretical background of the problem has not been fully discovered yet. Therefore, there is a need for investigation of the concept of prosocial behavior and defining its theoretical and experimental manifestation. This paper analyzes the notion of prosocial behavior, discusses its main features and peculiarities, considers the theoretical background of its emergence and explains conclusions, related to the connection between prosocial behavior and social responsibility.


Main Characteristics and Components of Prosocial Behavior

To start with, it is essential to show differences between the concepts of prosocial behavior and altruism, though they share many common features. Altruism is the form of self-identity and manner of individual behavior that aims at benefiting others at one’s own expenses and efforts. Altruism presupposes the absence of any attention to the personal well-being, since all efforts are paid to help and support others. In some cases, altruism can include taking risks for the sake of others. Currently, psychologists argue whether altruism can be regarded as a normal model of behavior or a deviation in the personal development. From this standpoint, it is essential to distinguish the concepts of altruism and prosocial development, despite the existence of obvious external similarities.  

On the contrary, prosocial behavior is a positive concept which denotes individual readiness to help others and demonstrate favorable models of acting and thinking. Prosocial behavior occurs in social surroundings and marks the way of interaction and cooperation between individuals. As a result, this kind of behavior can be observed exclusively in the community life. Prosocial behavior includes volunteering, donation, charity actions, collaboration and other activities, related to ethics and morality. Prosocial behavior is an acquired capacity which can be developed throughout the life. Nowadays, many therapeutic and counseling sessions focus on the development and improvement of prosocial behavior of individuals with physiological and mental disorders. Such attention to the issue of prosocial behavior witnesses about its significance and prominence in the modern world. 

Experts inform that many factors influence the individual prosocial behavior. To start with, this behavioral pattern calls for the high level of social responsibility and comprehension. Moreover, prosocial behavior can be observed only in those cases, when individuals are aware of the importance of human life and ways of acting under the conditions of emergency. Therefore, prosocial behavior is the indicator of a high level of the social, intellectual and cultural development, which shows individual preparation to take responsibility for the general wellbeing and social welfare. 

Moreover, the other factors, influencing prosocial behavior, are moral norms, values, ethical standards and models of behavior. In other words, individual interests, preferences, and attitudes can also contribute to the formation of this type of behavior. Currently, many school programs, volunteering events, and meetings focus on the creation of the relevant conditions for the development of prosocial development from the early childhood. Different therapies and interventions (pet therapy, animal assisted therapy, and musical interventions) are the other ways for prosocial behavior’s promotion and facilitation.

At the same time, psychologists claim that there are many obstacles and threats, preventing the normal development of prosocial behavioral models. Researches and data collection show that one of the most prominent problems related to this issue is the so-called bystander effect. This theory explains the social mechanisms of exclusion and detachment from prosocial behavior. The analysis of this phenomenon is crucial for the understanding of ways of promoting social behavior and creating the relevant social psychological tools for its enhancement. 

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Theory of Bystander Effect

In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered, despite the presence of 38 witnesses. The case became a key interest of psychological and social researches, attempting to explain the intentions and behavior of witnesses. The findings of the studies show that people tend to behave more socially and help others if there are no witnesses. On the contrary, the increase of the number of witnesses reduces the chances of getting the required help. The phenomenon is called the bystander effect and explains the correlation between prosocial behavior and quantity of people involved in the emergency. 

The effect shows that the presence of other individuals reduces the level of personal responsibility for taking any preventive measures. Similarly, people tend to suppose that somebody else is more competent and qualified to provide the needed support than they are. In the long-run, victims do not get any support, as all bystanders show no reaction or help.

The laboratory studies and experiments show that 75% of people would inform about the fire, help attacked women and provide the medical aid, in case there are no other witnesses of the emergency. However, the proportion of prosocial behavior tends to decrease dramatically when there are more than three people involved into the observation of the disaster or crime. The same statistics is true in relations to both minor things and serious crimes. 

As a result, social psychologists conclude that there are three main problems, related to prosocial behavior. To start with, it is a pluralistic ignorance. When surrounded by the crowd, individuals tend to underestimate their capacities and compare their performance with others. Often, this behavior leads to the ignorance of individual strength and discouragement of active position. This problem ruins the concept of prosocial behavior as well as causes the reduction of self-esteem and self-reliance. 

The second barrier is social inhibition. The physiologists state that humans have an inherited fear to get critics for looking funny or silly. Correspondingly, many prefer staying unnoticeable in the crowd to avoid negative commentaries and evaluation. The fear of judgments and criticism decreases the level of prosocial behavior and leads to the passiveness and indifference as well. 

Finally, the last problem consists in the distribution of responsibility. Since many people are involved into observation of the emergency, the level of individual responsibility for the preventive actions decreases. In other words, this phenomenon creates an effect of the shared responsibility and division of duties. Respectively, such a situation causes the collective passiveness and detachment from the event. Overall, the development of prosocial behavior encounters many significant obstacles which threaten its affectivity in society. 

Critical Evaluation of the Theory

The bystander effect theoretically proves the mechanisms of promotion and discouragement of prosocial behavior. The comprehension of the factors and causes of prosocial behavior is important for the appropriate analysis of the problem and invention of methods of their warning. The bystander effect emphasizes the complex structure of the interpersonal relations on the social level. It also shows how social surroundings can enhance and discourage prosocial behavior at the same time. In any case, this theory seems a verified and theoretically proved idea, explaining the mechanisms of influence on prosocial behavior. 

Additionally, the analysis of statistical data witnesses about the direct connection between the proportion of prosocial behavior and a number of individuals, involved into action. Since the proportion of people ready to help others tend to reduce dramatically with the increase of the number of witnesses, it is possible to assume that the data collection proves the credibility of the problem and determines its prominence. 

However, the analysis of this theory allows making the corresponding conclusions about the effects of the crowd on the individual perception of the situation and reaction to the emergency. As a result, it is possible to use this principle in the educative and informative measures to enhance the development of prosocial behavior under any conditions. The theory of the bystander effect provides an alternate explanation of the concept of prosocial behavior and demonstrates the areas of development in this sphere. 

The comprehension of the bystander effect and prosocial behavior contributes to the increase of personal social responsibility. The analysis of those notions demonstrates the importance of empathy and responsibility in every situation. As a result, it is possible to conclude that the proper understanding of the issue of the bystander effect contributes to the increase of individual social reliance and obligations. 


To sum up, prosocial behavior is one of the prominent issues in social phycology. There are many factors which contribute to its development and facilitate the process of acquisition of the required qualities and traits of character. However, there are also many risks obstacles, which threaten the normal development of prosocial behavior. Among them, the bystander effect should be mentioned. The theory of the bystander effect provides a valid explanation of the mechanisms of prosocial behavior as well as methods of its devaluation. The analysis of this theory allows making relevant conclusions about the prominence of social responsibility, especially in cases of emergency.

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