What Is a Helping Behavior?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Helping behavior, also called prosocial behavior, is a theory of social psychology. This theory describes the actions that people do to benefit others. These actions are a pattern of activity that are not generally based on motivations but on how those actions affect others.

Prosocial behavior is classified as altruism helping behavior. A person engages in specific actions, such as sharing, helping, and comforting, without any selfish expectations. The person does these actions purely for the purpose of helping other people. There are five different perspectives on this behavior.

Kin selection theory is one perspective on helping behavior. In this theory, helping behavior psychology can be due to evolution. Natural selection contributes to the survival idea, and humans are screened out of the evolution process if they lack the ability to adapt to environmental changes. To survive among groups of people with a similar genetic composition, desirable behaviors are maintained.

A second perspective is called negative-state relief model helping behavior. Social psychology researchers use this perspective to explain how helping actions are egoistic. It states that helping actions are done by people in an effort to reduce their own personal stress in similar situations. People help others in situations they may be facing on their own, but they may avoid helping others who are experiencing situations that are not the same.


Empathy-altruism is the theory that helping behavior is triggered by empathy, the ability to identify with a person and understand what they are experiencing and feeling. Researches see a relationship between empathy and helping actions. According to this theory, the idea is that empathetic people are triggered into acting by their empathy.

Reciprocal helping behavior is a fourth perspective. In general, people help others without the thought of personal gains that may occur as a result. This theory states that people think about future benefits for themselves when they help others, as long as the benefit will outweigh the sacrifice. Future benefits can include similar repayment by the person being helped.

The final perspective of helping behavior is the social exchange theory. Although the concept of helping actions does not revolve around what a person may gain as a result, some instances are motivated by personal gain. Similar to the reciprocal theory, the social exchange theory is based on the idea that people help others for the rewards they receive. Rewards can be external, such as friendship, or internal, such as self-satisfaction.


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