Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Emotion and helping

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Emotion and helping:
What is the relationship between emotion and helping?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Why do we help other people at a cost of our own expenses. Pro-social behaviour is what everyday people partake in to help out friends, relatives and even strangers, the reason why can be linked to emotions such as empathy and guilt that induce an individual to act more pro-socially and exhibit more helping behaviour.

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Emotions are hard to define, there are many different aspects that make up what an emotion is. From subjective feelings such as anger, sadness, joy and pleasure emotions make us feel a particular way towards a particular subject. Emotions also have a biological aspect to them, emotions such as fear help mobilise the body into getting ready for action. They also have a motivating and purposeful aspect, being fearful to fail a class will motivate you to try harder. And finally emotions can also be a social phenomenon, through emotions we provide others an insight into our feelings, through facial recognition, or even vocal means we can extend our feelings and emotions onto others. Because of the very nature of emotion, it is a topic that eludes definition. Every individual in the world knows what an emotion is, yet no single definition can provide a clear description of what an emotion actually is. For the following chapter however we will use emotion in a subjective way by looking at the personal feeling aspect of emotion. Looking at emotion through a subjective framework we will find a relationship that links emotions with pro-social behaviour, what kind of emotions encourage pro-social behaviour, why they do and how we can alter our day to day life so we to can act in a more pro-social manner by encouraging these emotions to flourish.

Early theories on Moral development[edit | edit source]

Self-Centered Reasoning[edit | edit source]

This is the first level children reach, it is characterised by the concentrations of behaviours being towards what benefits the self

Needs-Orientated Reasoning[edit | edit source]

A child then is motivated by what they need, such as food, warmth etc

Stereotyping and Approved-Orientated Reasoning[edit | edit source]

This stage concerns how a child perceives the people around them

Empathatic Reasoning[edit | edit source]

When a child begins to recognise how their own behaviours affect those around them. This is an important stage in terms of pro-social behaviour

Strongly Internalized Principles[edit | edit source]

Most of peoples motivations come from wanting to reach their own moral values. (Eisenberg, 2000)

Pro-social Behaviour[edit | edit source]

Pro-social behaviour refers to voluntary and intentional actions from a person that benefits other out-groups or individual at a cost of that person’s expense. There are many factors however that affect pro-social behaviour (Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind, & Levenson, 2011)

Situational Factors:[edit | edit source]

Social Identity Theory[edit | edit source]

The situation an individual finds themselves in does affect the level of pro-social behaviour that they are likely to partake in. Individuals view the situation in a number of ways, firstly whether or not the individual in need of help is identified as part of the same “in-group”, if so then the pro-social behaviour is likely to occur as people tend to identify closer to those in the same in-group and so have a more established sense of responsibility for the other persons wellbeing (Trepte, 2006). This is known as social identity theory. Social Identity Theory involves firstly social categorisation, which is a means of an individual to not only categorise themselves on a social level but also to categorise others along that same social level (Trepte, 2006). Stemming from social categorisation is social comparison, which is a technique used by an individual to evaluate their own groups and the groups of others to define not only individual status in a social framework but also group status within the framework (Trepte, 2006), which leads to the idea of in-groups and out-groups. An individual favours their own in-group and by doing so becomes more likely to assist and help those they view as being art of their group.

Altruisim[edit | edit source]

Altruism can be defined as behaviour that benefits the greater good, those kind of actions that benefit strangers at a cost to the individual (Trivers, 1971). For example someone diving into a lake to save someone from drowning can be viewed as an altruistic act. It benefits the victim because they don’t drown but at the same time it puts the helper at a cost to themselves, by diving in they are risking their own life to save that of another. Altruism takes many different forms of pro-social behaviour, from volunteerism, helping, sharing and even comforting other people.

Bystander Apathy[edit | edit source]

The number of other people around also impacts on whether or not an individual would partake in pro-social behaviour. A phenomenon known as bystander apathy states that the more people that are present the less likely someone is to help. The most famous case of bystander apathy occurred in 1964 a young woman known as Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in the middle of a street in New York. The assailant took more than half an hour to kill Kitty all the while there were 38 witnesses who didn’t provide any help to Kitty or even phone the police (Darley & Latane, 1968). There are many reasons why bystander apathy exists, the first aspect is diffusion of responsibility. When there is a situation in which help is needed and an individual is on their own, they then take full responsibility, and any pressure to help rests solely on them. In situations where there is more than one person, then not only the pressure to help, but also the blame for potentially not helping is shared amongst the group and as a result the individuals present are less likely to intervene (Darley & Latane, 1968).

Individual Factors[edit | edit source]

There are many different individual factors that also impact on whether or not pro-social behaviour will be undertaken. Firstly whether or not the individual has the resources to act, no matter how much an individual will want to help if they do not have the sufficient resources available to help than chances are the help will not take action. The moral identity of an individual also plays a part, it has been found that those with a higher level of moral identity are more likely to partake in altruistic actions than those who are not (Passini, 2013). Learning also adds a factor to pro-social behaviour, during development if helping is emphasized and rewarded much like the principles of operant conditioning, then a person is more likely to continue that behaviour later in life (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2004). And lastly emotional arousal and affect, which recognises the important role that certain emotions play in motivating pro-social actions and behaviours. Emotions such as empathy are fundamental to all kinds of helping behaviours, as does feeling upset or guilty. Emotions encourage perspective-taking with the target which allows the perspective-taker access to a more personalised approach and as a result pro-social behaviours are more likely to occur (Dovidio, et al., 2004).

Emotions and the links with pro-social behaviour[edit | edit source]

What Emotions lead to helping Behaviour[edit | edit source]

Empathy[edit | edit source]

There are two main types of empathy, emotional empathy and cognitive empathy.

Emotional empathy is characterised by being able to understand another person’s emotional state and respond accordingly and cognitive empathy is being able to understand another person’s perspective and mental state. Emotional empathy can be further categorised into two different components, emotional concern which contains emotions such as sympathy and compassion for another person in response to their perceived suffering. And personal distress, which is the self-centered feelings that occur when perceiving another’s suffering.

Emotional empathy is thought to be one of the major motivating factors in pro-social behaviours (Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind, & Levenson, 2011), not only is it important to look at for theoretical reasons, but also practical applications of empathy are worth investigation (Roberts & Strayer, 1996). Empathy is an emotional response produced by witnessing another person in need and picking up on their emotional cues. When empathy has been induced in an individual, they are likely to experience a number of subjective components including feelings of warmth and concern and personal distress and discomfort (Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind, & Levenson, 2011).

Empathy is notable for allowing a bond and a shared affect between one individual and another (Roberts & Strayer, 1996). In one study guided by Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind and Levenson (2012) a definite link was found between levels of empathy and likelihood of pro-social behaviour. In the study the researchers attempted to support three different hypotheses; whether or not emotional empathy increased with age, prosocial behaviour increasing with age and finally aspects of emotional empathy that account for increases in pro-social behaviour.

To test these hypotheses the researchers used samples from older, middle aged and young adults and had them two different films, one that was viewed as “uplifting” and the other that was “distressing” to the viewer. Both films were designed to induce empathy among the participants. After the film viewing the participants were handed a $50 check, $10 in one dollar bills and an information sheet about two charities that were associated with the themes of the two films, with the pro-social behaviour being measured on the amount of money the participants then donated to the charities (Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind, & Levenson, 2011).

The results of the study showed strong support for each hypothesis, showing that there is a link between age and increased empathy as well as empathy and pro-social behaviour. What makes this study important is that it is one of the few that look into empathy in adults and the subsequent pro-social behaviours. It highlights that empathy continues to grow in later life development and can continue to be a major contributor to pro-social behaviours later in life.

Another study conducted by Wilhelm and Bekkers (2010) investigated the links between empathic concern and helping behaviour. They investigated whether or not the principle of care and empathic concern related to many types of helping behaviour. The study testing ten different helping behaviours including :

1. returned change to a cashier after getting too much change,

2. allowed a stranger to go ahead in line,

3. offered a seat on a bus or in a public place to a stranger who was standing,

4. carried a stranger’s belongings, like groceries, a suitcase, or shopping bag,

5. given food or money to a homeless person,

6. looked after a person’s plants, mail, or pets while he or she was away,

7. let someone you didn’t know well borrow an item of some value like dishes or tools,

8. given money to a charity,

9. done volunteer work for a charity, and

10. donated blood

And measured the level of empathic concern using Davis seven item subscale (1994). The participants would complete a number of surveys to measure their empathic concern and to also measure how often they performed the helping behaviours in the past year. The results of the study strengthen the theory that empathy and a significant relationship with helping others, with 9 out of the 10 helping behaviours having a significant relationship with the level of empathic concern (Wilhelm & Bekkers, 2010).

Guilt[edit | edit source]

Guilt is one of the most prominent moral emotions, it occurs a person performs an action that they themselves believes is wrong or against their own moral code (de Hooge, Nelissen, & Breugelmans, 2011).

Guilt leads to the desire to repair a specific wrong (Miller, 2010), when somebody wrongs another person they immediately engage in behaviours that attempt to repair the damage. For example when somebody breaks another person’s property they then begin to apologise or even offer financial compensation for the broken item (Estrada-Hollenbeck & Heatherton, 1998).

A number of studies have been undertaken to find a relationship between guilt and helping behaviours and most support this theory (Miller, 2010), in fact feelings of guilt motivate individuals to engage in pro-social behaviours in an attempt to mend and repair the damage caused. These kind of pro-social behaviours save the breakdown of relationships and as such are beneficial for both parties and strengthen social bonds (Estrada-Hollenbeck & Heatherton, 1998).

Guilt is a common form of emotional distress, people invoke feelings of guilt to apologize and manipulate behaviours and relationships towards others. There are three main functions of guilt that work to strengthen bonds and attachments on a social scale.

Firstly guilt helps enforce norms, by promoting mutual concern, respect and positive actions while at the same time punishing transgressions that could lead to the detriment of another person’s wellbeing.

Secondly guilt acts as an interpersonal influence other another person, someone may be able to manipulate another into a pro-social behaviour by inducing guilt.

And lastly it is used to maintain, repair and establish stronger bonds between two people, by bringing two peoples emotional harmony closer together (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton,1994).

Examples of pro-social behaviours[edit | edit source]

London Riots[edit | edit source]

In 2011 London had one of the biggest riots the city has ever seen, in the ensuing drama much of the city was destroyed and damaged. This led to a massive group act of pro-social behaviour in which hundreds of people turned up with brooms in hand to clean up the city. One volunteer claimed that she felt “impassioned to help” clean the city, an example of how empathy and emotions affect our desire to help others, while others felt the need to help clean up what they viewed as their home.

Everyday Examples[edit | edit source]

Pro-social behaviours do occur everyday, sometimes they are little gestures while other times they are big acts that take more time and resources from an individual. Below are some examples of everyday pro-social behaviours and how some emotions can be induced from them and lead to the pro-social action

Everyday Pro-social behaviour Induced Empathy
Tipping a Waiter Tipping a waiter can be an almost everyday occurance, it can be enduced empathy in a number of ways. For example perhaps the tipper previously worked in hospitality and knows of the pressure involved in the job, sympathises with the worker and as a result is more likely to tip
Helping a stranger who’s car has broken down This would invoke empathy and guilt aversion, if someone sees a car broken down they may understand the bad luck that person is in, and so would be induced to help. Furthermore if a person is able to help, they may not want to feel guilty for driving past and exhibit guilt aversion and help as a means to avoid feeling guilty about not helping.
Donating to charities People may empathise with poorer disadvantaged people and feel the need to help them with the resources they can. Most charities only ask for little and so the cost for them would be low while the benefits for the charity would be high, making people more likely to contribute.
Sharing This pro-social behaviour can be very simple or quite complex. Actions such as sharing food with a friend because he or she may be hungry can be an example of how guilt works to induce sharing, as an individual doesn’t want to feel guilty for someone else being hungry when they can easily help. To empathising with a homeless person and sharing some loose change.

Emotional self-regulation[edit | edit source]

Most people would predict that as the number of people suffering or in need of help rises so too would the strength of emotion people respond with. Current research however suggests otherwise, with studies showing that as the number of people in need rises the level of emotion does not (Cameron & Payne, 2011). Much like bystander apathy it seems like the larger the group of people there is the less likely we are to take responsibility and instead avoid involving ourselves.

One possible explanation for this is emotional regulation, which suggests that people view incidents with many people in need of help as too costly and so emotionally distance themselves to avoid the cost in the efforts of self-interest (Cameron & Payne, 2011).

Eisenberg (2010) defines emotional regulation as the process which initiates avoiding, inhibiting, maintaining or changing the occurrence, form or strength of internal emotions and feelings. Emotional regulation hinders pro-social behaviour as it reduces the empathy or guilt we may feel towards a subject and as such reduces the likelihood we are to engage in helping behaviours.

How can we use emotions to better our lives[edit | edit source]

In terms of emotions and the links to helping others and pro-social behaviour it isn’t so much a question of how can we make our lives better, but rather how can we make the lives of those around us better.

By embracing our intuitive empathy and compassion towards other people, we allow ourselves to be more likely to partake in pro-social behaviours, by being more aware of these processes we can allow ourselves to make better and more educated decisions regarding the situations we find ourselves in every day.

By recognising such aspects like emotional regulation we can also avoid reducing our emotional response towards a situation and so make it more likely for us to engage in helping behaviour.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

There are clear links between emotions such as empathy and guilt and helping behaviours. Empathy works on a level as it invokes concern, distress within an individual and so actions to help are more likely to occur. Guilt on the other hand induces pro-social behaviour by a desire to avoid feeling that emotion. So by partaking in pro-social behaviours an individual will avoid feelings of guilt later on.

References[edit | edit source]

Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1994). Guilt: an interpersonal approach. Psychological bulletin, 115(2), 243.

Cameron, C. D., & Payne, B. K. (2011). Escaping Affect: How Motivated Emotion Regulation Creates Insensitivity to Mass Suffering. Attitudes and Social Cognition, 1-15.

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander Intervention in Emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 377-383.

Davies, L., Toppin, A., Ball, J., & Sample, I. (2011, August 10). London Riots: Hundreds answer appeal to clean up streets. The Guardian.

de Hooge, I. E., Nelissen, R. M., & Breugelmans, S. M. (2011). What is Moral about Guilt? Acting "Prosocially" at the disadvantage of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 462-473.

Dovidio, J. F., Vergert, M. t., Stewart, T. L., Gaertner, S. L., Johnson, J. D., Esses, V. M., . . . Pearson, A. R. (2004). Perspective and Prejudice: Antecedents and Mediating Mechanisms. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1537-1548.

Eisenberg, N. (2000). Emotion, regulation, and moral development. Annual review of psychology, 51(1), 665-697.

Eisenberg, N. (2010). Empathy-Related Responding: Links with Self-Regulation , Moral Judgement, and Moral Behaviour. Prosocial Motives, emotions, and behaviour: The better angels of nature, 129-148.

Estrada-Hollenbeck, M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1998). Avoiding and Alleviating Guilt through Prosocial Behaviour. In J. Bybee (Ed), Guilt and Children (pp. 215-231). San Diego: Academic Press.

Miller, C. (2010). Guilt and Helping. Advances in Psychology Research, 117-138.

O'Connel, G., Christakou, A., Haffey, A. T., & Chakrabarti, B. (2013). The role of empathy in choosing rewards from another's perspective. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 1-5.

Passini, S. (2013). What do I Think of Others in Relation to Myself? Moral Identity and Moral Inclusion in Explaining Prejudice. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 261-269.

Penner, L. A., Dovidio, J. F., Piliavin, J. A., & Schroeder, D. A. (2004). Prosocial Behaviour: Multilevel Perspectives. AR Reviews in Advance, 14.1-14.28.

Roberts, W., & Strayer, J. (1996). Empathy, Emotional Expressiveness, and Prosocial Behaviour. Child Development, 449-470.

Shih, M., Wang, E., Bucher, A. T., & Stotzer, R. (2009). Perspective Taking: Reducing Prejudice Towards General Outgroups and Specific Individuals. Group Processes Intergroup Relations, 565-576.

Sze, J. A., Gyurak, A., Goodkind, M. S., & Levenson, R. W. (2011). Greater Emotional Empathy and Prosocial Behaviour in Late Life. American Psychological Assosiation, 1129-1140.

Trivers, R. (1971). The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism. The Quarterly review of Biology, 35-57.

Trepte, S. (2006). Social Identity Theory. In J. B. (Ed), & P. V. (Ed), Psychology of Entertainment (pp. 255-271). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.