Altruism and Prosocial Behavior in Groups: Volume 26


Table of contents

(13 chapters)

Advances in Group Processes publishes theoretical analyses, reviews, and theory-based empirical chapters on group phenomena. The series adopts a broad conception of “group processes.” This includes work on groups ranging from the very small to the very large, and on classic and contemporary topics such as status, power, exchange, justice, influence, decision-making, intergroup relations, and social networks. Previous contributors have included scholars from diverse fields including sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, computer science, mathematics, and organizational behavior.

Research supporting the empathy–altruism hypothesis suggests that the value assumption of the theory of rational choice is wrong. Apparently, humans can value more than their own welfare. Empathic concern felt for someone in need can produce altruistic motivation with the ultimate goal of increasing that person's welfare. But this altruistic motivation is not always good. Research also reveals that empathy-induced altruism can pose a threat to the collective good in social dilemmas. Indeed, in certain non-trivial circumstances, it can pose a more powerful threat than does self-interested egoism.

Individual rationality sometimes leads to collectively irrational outcomes, a fundamental problem in the social and life sciences that has attracted sustained attention from experimentalists in sociology, psychology, biology, and economics. But what is it about individual rationality that sometimes gets us into trouble? Is the problem the egoistic pursuit of individual self-interest? Or does the problem with individual rationality lie elsewhere? To find an answer, this chapter closely examines the theoretical and experimental literature on social dilemmas, to see how researchers identify the source of the problem. The review suggests that the prevailing theory wrongly points to egoism as the problem. Failing to do what is best for everyone can also happen among rational altruists, and sometimes egoism is needed to prevent it. The chapter concludes by pointing to what we believe is the fundamental problem – a tension not between individual self-interest and collective welfare, but between individual autonomy and collective interdependence.

Social dilemmas take many forms but all share the property that individual benefits, at least in the short run, conflict with group benefits. This chapter examines how information about the characteristics of group members and the parameters of the dilemma affect decision-making. Particular attention is paid to transformative crises, sudden changes in the dilemma setting that for a short period of time lead to incomplete information. It is posited that these crises cause relatively dramatic shifts in the importance of information.

A long line of research has addressed whether there are sex differences in cooperation and other forms of prosocial behavior. Studies of social dilemmas (situations that pose a conflict between individual and collective interests) have yielded particularly contradictory conclusions about whether males or females are more cooperative. We present an evolutionary framework that synthesizes previous results and generates new insights into the sex and cooperation question. The framework addresses two general bases of sex differences in cooperation. First, we show how variation in the motivational structure of social dilemmas generates sex differences in cooperation. We then address two aspects of social structure, that, according to evolutionary reasoning, generate sex differences in cooperation: the sex composition of the group, and the interpersonal versus intergroup nature of the dilemma. After presenting new hypotheses and reviewing existing research relevant to each hypothesis, we conclude by making suggestions for future research.

This chapter aims to clarify the distinction between feeling grateful and feeling indebted. Often overlooked and underappreciated, the differences that define these unique affective experiences are critical to understanding the consequences of helping behavior. This chapter describes the psychological underpinnings of gratitude and indebtedness and outlines the ways in which previous research has conflated the two constructs. In addition, it puts forth a set of testable propositions that help distinguish the relative importance of gratitude and indebtedness in interpersonal relations. The implications of these ideas are discussed in the context of individual generosity, social exchange, and group dynamics.

Here I present a theory of collective action that emphasizes the role of status. I argue that collective action contributions earn individuals improved status by signaling their concern for the group's welfare relative to their own. Having received greater prestige for their contributions to group goals, individuals’ actual motivation to help the group is increased, leading to greater subsequent contributions to group efforts and greater feelings of group solidarity. This “virtuous cycle” of costly contributions to group efforts and enhanced standing in the group shows one way in which individuals’ prosocial behaviors are socially constructed, a consequence of individuals’ basic concern for what others think of them. I discuss a variety of issues related to the theory, including its scope of application, theoretical implications, relationship to alternative models of reputation and prosocial behavior, possible practical applications, and directions for future research.

Why do strangers in collectivist societies act prosocially? Previous work indicates that generalized trust (trust in strangers) is necessary for prosocial behavior; however, generalized trust exists at low levels in collectivist societies. Researchers have also argued that without trust among strangers, social order is threatened. Yet, collectivist societies are not characterized by social disorder; therefore, individuals must be acting prosocially. Without generalized trust, how is this possible? In this work I argue that institutional trust (a belief that institutions induce others to act in a trustworthy manner) is responsible for prosociality in collectivist societies, not generalized trust. Does a similar relationship hold in individualist societies? Although some evidence suggests that prosocial behavior is predicated by generalized trust, other evidence indicates that the stronger predictor is institutional trust. All arguments are tested with data from the World Values Survey (WVS) with data from 14 countries. Results from regression analyses are reported. The chapter concludes with implications and directions for future work.

Instrumental approaches to norms treat their enforcement as problematic and suggest that self-interested actors are unlikely to sanction. We suggest an alternative conceptualization of the norm enforcement problem. Research shows that social rewards can offset sanctioning costs, thereby encouraging enforcement. The issue then becomes how individuals determine what to sanction. We suggest that the typicality of behavior may provide a clue. We identify conditions under which atypical behavior may be punished. Consistent with existing instrumental approaches, we find that atypical behavior is sanctioned if it detracts from group welfare. We also find evidence pointing to the importance of a non-instrumental factor – perceptions of a behavior's social desirability.

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Advances in Group Processes
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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