Prosocial Behavior- Assuming Responsibility and Why We Help

The lectures on prosocial behavior this week made me think very deeply about my role as a day camp counselor. The five helping steps became incredibly salient in my day-to-day thinking. Yesterday, a camper dropped a large iced coffee in the middle of the floor of the lunchroom. This room also doubles as the dance studio. As a counselor, I knew it was my job to help out but there were about ten counselors in the room who were also supposed to aid the clean up process. None of us immediately rushed to help even though it was easily recognizable as an issue that needed to be dealt with before the post-lunch movement class (although not an emergency). This was a clear example of the bystander effect. All of us knew one or two of us had to clean up the huge mess but no action was being taken. We had all completed the first step of noticing what had happened and had interpreted the event but were having trouble with assuming responsibility.

My mind began to jump to the five helping steps and I immediately thought about diffusion of responsibility. I did not want to clean up the coffee and I felt as though I could reasonably assume that the other counselors were feeling the same way. I was expecting that one of them would step up and maybe the other counselors were as well. The second I finished this thought I went to go get paper towels but it almost made me laugh how immediately the lecture became relevant in my life. Having knowledge of the helping steps made me act prosocially.

This event also made me think critically about why people help others. The altruism argument came to my mind. I feel now as though my actions were unfortunately rooted more in selfishness than altruism. The camper who had dropped the coffee had already moved away from the area out of embarrassment and also because she understood that we would take care of it so it was hard to feel too bad for her. But I did not act out of concern for the space. I acted because of this lecture and I wanted to seem less selfish which, in a way, is inherently selfish. I wanted to look like a responsible counselor in front of my much older and more experienced counselors.

I do believe that Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis makes logical sense but I have yet to see it play out and it also seems as though it would be hard to manage. I saw a counselor later in the day offer to use her free period to assist in a class and I thought that it could be a possible example of this hypothesis. It could be that the helping counselor acted out of altruism rather than selfishness because she knows first hand how hard it is to teach a class without an assistant. Of course, it is also plausible that the counselor did this for purely selfish reasons and I do not know because I did not ask her about her motives.

It had already amazed me how often these concepts pop up in daily life.

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