Prosocial Behavior

This past week on the Red Line back from Boston I overheard a conversation between an Australian man and another passenger, both, who with suitcases, had seemingly just arrived from the airport. The Australian man had just landed in Boston and was in the United States for the first time, naturally with many questions. When the original conversationalist left the train at Kendall, the man from Melbourne looked to me. Reflecting on the experience, many of the prosocial concepts discussed in class were at play in the situation. To begin, I just recently spent a semester abroad in Germany. I remember painfully clearly how overwhelming entering an entirely new culture can be for the first days and weeks. This similarity between us created a feeling of empathy. Some of my closest friends abroad were Aussies. This parallel once again brought forth feelings of in-group connectedness and empathy. Another vital aspect in the process of deciding to offer my knowledge about the Greater Boston Area to this man was the fact that he said to the before-mentioned original airport mate that he was a visiting scholar at Tufts University. Like the cocktail effect of hearing ones own name, hearing this man from a far away continent utter the name of my home for the past four years caught my attention. The layers of connection which we shared definitely attracted me to speak to him. Other factors that may have had an affect were that I was in a good mood due to  coming from finally buying a new pair of glasses (six years overdue) and therefore was more inclined to pay attention to what was happening around me rather than getting stuck in my head anxiously considering my to-do list. Another consideration is that I was alone, which also allowed me greater focus on my surroundings. My aloneness can also be taken into consideration in eliminating the possibility that I was participating in the helping behavior because of the social exchange idea of my drive originating from the desire to impress those around me or fit into any social norms. I can now assess my own prosocial behaviors more critically, and hopefully act against any barriers to helping behaviors that may arise in my future.

Here’s me in the airport on my way to Germany. Nervous, excited, and confused, just seven months ago I was in the exact position as the Australian man I encountered on the train in Boston.

Fundamental Attribution Error

During the first meeting of my Anthropology and Sociology of School class we did some introductory work with each other. The class is very small, and we sat in a circle for the entire three hours to aid the process of engagement. One of the activities the professor tasked us with was to chose a physical object or aspect of someone in the room and explain what we believed it said about the subject. This experience brought forth feelings of discomfort, and highlighted the human tendency to make assumptions. Immediately I was reminded of our discussion of fundamental attribution error, and the oversimplification of other peoples decision making processes and/or behaviors. In making assumptions about others we often fail to account for the intricacies of their lives, and the situational factors at play during our interactions. More often than not our assumptions can be harmful and belittle those around us. It is vastly important to give others the same benefit of the doubt that we give ourselves when attempting to justify our behaviors. Speaking on behalf of another comes at the risk of not considering all of the nuances of their experience, and is uncomfortable for everyone involved. Perhaps the person I chose was wearing all red, I may have attributed that to her being someone who is outgoing, likes bright colors, or was seeking attention. The reality of why she was wearing all red could have related to one of my hypotheses, or it could have origins in something entirely unrelated to my assumptions. While making assumptions can frequently be involuntary, the weight we give those assumptions can be controlled.