What is Prosocial Behavior?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Prosocial behavior is, in a very broad sense, any behavior that benefits the welfare of others and of society as a whole. In examining such behavior, the emphasis is typically on the actions rather than on the motivations behind them. While altruism refers to helping others with no regard for the benefit to one's self, prosocial behavior refers only to action that benefits others. An action can be prosocial but not altruistic if the acting individual acts to help others because of the benefits to himself. Such behavior, particularly when altruistic, is of great interest to psychologists and sociologists because it can be very difficult to explain, based on traditional social and psychological concepts.

Many social scientists and psychologists find prosocial behavior to be a particularly interesting issue in their fields of study, as it cannot always be easily understood simply by examining one's motivations or selfish interests. Prosocial behavior is highly prevalent in human society despite the fact that, in many cases, it provides little direct benefit to the individual acting toward the welfare of others. Many world religious, political, and social institutions strongly promote and support such behavior. Individuals unassociated with any such groups also often choose to act in a socially beneficial manner, even though it is not expected of them because of affiliation with a prosocial group.


One theory about the underlying causes of prosocial behavior involves self-image. It is believed that people act in a way that they believe to be good and beneficial to society because it gives them a personal sense of fulfillment and improves their self-esteem. Another possibility is that those who exhibit prosocial behavior do so with the desire of gaining greater social esteem among their peers. There can, however, be little doubt that some people act in a purely altruistic manner without the expectation of reward; many psychologists and social scientists still find such people to be baffling.

The development of prosocial behavior tends to be socially encouraged from a very early age. Young children are encouraged to share and to help other people in their families and in their schools. Positive social behavior, therefore, is often connected very closely to the ideas of right and wrong in a child's mind. This leads to another common cause of prosocial behavior: social obligation. Many of the prosocial activities that people engage in are directly linked to feelings of responsibility to one's family, friends, coworkers, or others.


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Post 3

@Icecream17- I also think that sometimes people engage in prosocial behavior because they want to get involved in the social scene and want to throw a party. I was watching a program the other day in which a family decided to throw a Christmas party to benefit a local children’s hospital. Each guest was supposed to bring some toys for the children.

The party cost about $50,000 and they had a total of $1,500 in toys. I think that it would have been better to give a $50,000 donation to the children’s hospital then throw an extravagant party and offer so little to the charity.

I realize that the party was more fun but if the benefit was held for the children, a donation would have been better.

Post 2

@Moldova - I think that it is nice that schools do this to promote prosocial behavior in children, but I don’t know if I agree that it should be forced upon the group.

I say this because years ago I worked for a company that wanted their executives to contribute a certain percentage of their salary to a charity in order to beat the figures raised the year before which would give the company positive press and give them good standing in the community.

I think that when prosocial behavior becomes competitive like this it really turns me off because I think that giving should come from the heart. I think that this is akin to a celebrity joining a charity in order to gain from the publicity. I realize that charities need help and they don’t care what the person’s motivation is but I think that the person receiving the help should get the attention not the person giving.

Post 1

I think that you see a lot of prosocial behavior examples in many elementary, middle schools and high schools. I know that at my kids school they always have a canned food drive around Thanksgiving and they usually do a toy drive for a local children’s hospital around Christmas time.

They also do a variety of activities throughout the year in order to raise money for various charities. I know that at the middle school and high school level there are required hours of community service that is part of the school’s curriculum.

I think that it is really nice that schools have programs like this because it forces students to realize that there are people that are far less fortunate than they are and it gives them a healthy perspective on life and offers them an opportunity to develop a sense of gratitude for what they do have.

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