Being Human. Chapter 11: Altruism And Prosocial Behavior

In 1964 a shocking incident occurred in New York City that caused distress and concern among social psychologists. A young woman, Kitty Genovese, was walking to her home when a stalker attacked her. What was especially distressing was that she was stabbed repeatedly over a 35-minute time span while crying out for help. It was not as if no one heard her cries. According to several news reports in the days that followed she died while 38 of her neighbors saw the attack and did nothing. They watched the attack unfold from windows above the street and the only intervention occurred when someone yelled, “leave that girl alone”, at which point the attacker left temporarily. However, after a short interval the attacker returned and stabbed her 8 more times, sexually assaulted her, and left her for dead. When finally police were called, there was nothing that could be done as Kitty had died.

When the neighbors were later interviewed and asked why they did not intervene, some indicated that they felt no personal responsibility to help, whereas others misconstrued the situation as one that did not require intervention. Although recent research indicates that the news reports had not been quite correct about every detail of this incidence (Manning, Levine & Collins, 2007), more importantly social psychologists were motivated by the news stories about this crime to try to understand what caused such indifference to suffering. In a more positive sense it also led to the desire to know why on the other hand some bystanders in other situations do display concern and intervene in order to help (Darley & Latane, 1968). We will come back to this research later in this chapter.

When September 11, 2001 came to New York, we saw this different side of the human nature, a desire to help and intervene. That day close to 3,000 people died in a massive attack on the World Trade Center. However, there were also hundreds of people who died trying to help these victims and in the process sacrificed their own lives (Lee, 2001). Most of the people who displayed extraordinary courage and selfless behavior on that day were ordinary people just like those who decided not to help Kitty Genovese. The helpers were average human beings who found themselves faced with an extraordinary situation that demanded their attention. Most of the workers in the building did the natural thing and fled to safety. However, there were some who stayed behind and helped the physically handicapped, there were those workers who saw to it that others were led to safety first, and there were hundreds of firefighters who lost their lives trying to save others (Stewart, 2002).

In both of these incidents the possibility of behaving in altruistic and helping ways presented itself. Why did those who watched Kitty Genovese die not help? Why did altruistic heroes arise out of the catastrophe at the World Trade Center? These and other issues dealing with altruistic and prosocial behavior will be addressed in this chapter. Human history shows the selfish and dark side of humanity, but also records people who are willing to sacrifice even their lives to help those in need. For social psychologists these anecdotal examples create questions as to whether willingness to help has a basic genetic component, or whether it is a consequence of learning. Is there such a thing as a pure altruistic motive in helping people or are all such behaviors at least partly motivated by self-interests? Read more

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Being Human. Chapter 12: Morality: Competition, Justice And Cooperation

As we watch the news each day, and interact with others in society, our sense of right and wrong may often be aroused. There is a great deal of evidence in social psychology pointing to the negative effects of selfish and unbridled competition. People at times express extreme egoism in their behavior to the detriment of others, and the remedy may require legal sanctions. Fortunately, as we saw in the last chapter there are also people who seek to act in cooperative ways, and try to reconcile people in conflict. Conflict situations often call for moral judgment. What is right and wrong in the dispute and where is the common ground? Do you approve of murder as long as it is your enemy? How about killing in a just war as you have defined it? What about infanticide where illness or lack of resources makes the future seem impossible for the child? How about assisted suicide for the hopelessly ill? These issues and many other challenges all require moral judgment.

Perhaps you have taken note of how people live in other countries and cultures. Some behaviors like polygamy or polyandry may strike you as odd, but do they also require moral judgment? In that case we can see that moral judgment is not universally similar as social conventions vary on marriage and other social practices in different cultures. How about a situation where parents deliberatively starve their children to death? Is that universally rejected, do you think people find that acceptable in any culture? Deliberate killing of children is probably not acceptable in modern societies, so there is also evidence for some universality of moral judgment.

1. Moral judgment and culture
How we define morality is of primary concern in moral judgment. What do we use to guide our thinking as we make judgment about right or wrong, good or bad? People rely on guides to live a life that is ethically acceptable. Some people use religious or humanistic scripture to make moral choices. Others believe they hear a little internal voice that warns them of moral compromise. Ethical principles determine a great deal of social behavior, from the paying of money owed to the election of government leaders and political parties. Moral judgment is central in the so-called war on terrorism. It has influenced both sides in the war on their attitudes toward killing and who might be considered innocent parties to the conflict. One side thinks that there are no innocent “infidels”; the other side defines all military opposition as terrorism. Nevertheless both positions are moral judgments based on ethics, which are derived from custom, religion, and social categorization.

1.1 Defining moral behavior
Morality is defined as the principles that guides our lives and which we use in making judgments about the behavior of others (Haidt, 2001). In a broader sense morality is what we consider ideal the utopian society that we hope for in the future. Moral principles incur obligations on us, and to a large extent determine our behavior toward self and others. Moral principles in society generally apply to all people. We would consider it hypocritical to tell our children to behave in a certain moral way, if we ourselves do not practice the same ethical principle. Likewise for a country if the morality of a society calls for peaceful relations with others it is hypocritical to carry unprovoked war to the shore of other nations. Moral principles are inclusive applying to everyone within the group, be it religious, nation, or other society. Human behavior is far from perfect, and we all violate moral obligations at times. Society, for instance, imposes a requirement not to steal from others in the community. If a member of the community violates this obligation society imposes sanctions. Sanctions vary widely in various cultures from a figuratively slap on the wrist to actually cutting off the offending hand in some Middle Eastern societies. Like in China, many states in the U.S. still have capital punishment for some crimes. Read more

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Being Human. References

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Aberson, C.L., & Ettlin, T.E. (2004). The aversive racism paradigm and responses favoring African-Americans: Meta-analytic evidence of two types of favoritism. Social Justice Research, 17, 25-45.
Aboud, R. (1988). Children and prejudice. New York: Basil Blackwell.
Abraham, M.M., & Lodish, L.M. (1990). Getting the most out of advertising and promotion. Harvard Business Review, 68, 50-60.
Abrahmson, A.C., Baker, L.A., & Capsi, A. (2002). Rebellious teens? Genetic and environmental influences on the social attitudes of adolescents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1392-1408.
Abrams, D., Wetherell, M., Cochrane, S., Hogg, M.A., & Turner, J.C. (1990). Knowing what to think by knowing who you are: Self-categorization and the nature of norm formation, conformity, and group polarization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 97-119.
Abramson, L.Y. (Ed.). Social cognition and clinical psychology: A synthesis. New York: Guilford.
Abramson, L.Y., Metalsky, G.I., & Alloy, L.B. (1989). Hopelessness depression: A theory based subtype of depression. Psychological Review, 96, 358-372.
Adams, H.E., Wrigth, L.W., & Lohr, B.A. (1996). Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 440-445.
Addis, M.E., & Mahalik, J.R. (2001). Men, masculinity, and the context of help seeking. American Psychologist, 58, 5-14.
Adler, J. (1994, November 7), Beyond the bell curve. Newsweek, p. 56.
Adler, N.E., Boyce, T., Chesney, M.A., Cohen, S., Folkman, S., & Kahn, R.L. (1994). Socioeconomic status and health: The challenge of the gradient. American Psychologist, 49, 15-24.
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J., & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.
Agnew, C.R., Van Lange, P.A.M., Rusbult, C.E., & Langston, C.A. (1998). Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representations of close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 939-954.
AhYun, K. (2002). Similarity and attraction. In M. Allen, R.W. Preiss, B.M Gayle, & N.A. Burrell (Eds.), Interpersonal communications research (pp. 145-167). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Aisnworth, M.D., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ajzen, I. (1982). On behaving in accordance with one’s attitudes. In M.P. Zanna, E.T. Higgins, & C.P. Herman (Eds.). Consistency in social behavior: The Ontario Symposium, vol. 2, Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: a theory of planned behavior. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckman (Eds.), Action-control: From cognition to behavior. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.
Ajzen, I. (1987). Attitudes, traits, and actions: Dispositional prediction of behavior in personality and social psychology. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 20, pp. 1-63). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
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Over de rol van ijdelheid in de wetenschap ~ Over Norbert Elias

Omslag & DTP BuroBouws

In 1946 ging ik als student de colleges bijwonen van Professor A.N.J. Den Hollander, toen net benoemd tot hoogleraar in de sociologie aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. In een van zijn eerste colleges ried hij ons ter lezing de studie aan van een zekere Norbert Elias, getiteld Über den Prozess der Zivilisation. Hij zei erbij: ‘hij is een Duitser van joodse komaf, dus helaas, alle kans dat hij niet meer leeft’. Ik heb zijn raad opgevolgd en daar nooit spijt van gehad.

Als ik zijn studie nu opnieuw beschouw vind ik die weer, of nog steeds, een meesterwerk, handelend over een belangrijk onderwerp, met verve gepresenteerd en, dat vooral, gebaseerd op gedegen en zorgvuldig onderzoek. Geen uitspraak of die wordt onderbouwd door een verwijzing naar de literatuur; het notenapparaat omvat ruim 10 percent van de totale, zo’n 800 pagina’s tellende, tekst. En tenslotte, mij dunkt dat zijn conclusies grotendeels ook nu nog geldig zijn. [1] Ik ben trouwens niet de enige die dit meent. Zo werd ik geattendeerd op een boek uit 2011 waarvan de auteur dankbaar gebruik maakt van zijn inzichten, zoals neergelegd in Über den Prozess der Zivilisation.[2]

In 1933 was Elias verbonden aan de universiteit van Frankfurt als assistent van Karl Mannheim, een in die tijd terecht befaamde socioloog. In januari van dat jaar kwam Hitler in Duitsland aan de macht. Al in maart of april is Elias uit Duitsland vertrokken, toen dat voor joden nog gemakkelijk kon. Hij heeft twee jaar in Parijs gewoond, is daarna naar Londen getrokken. Daar ontving hij van een comité dat joodse vluchtelingen uit Duitsland bijstond jarenlang een schamele toelage.

In precies drie jaar, van zijn acht en dertigste tot zijn een en veertigste heeft hij daar toen zijn meesterwerk geschreven. Een herculische prestatie. Hij had weliswaar geen andere besognes maar aan de andere kant, hij miste daar de steun van een academische instelling. Hij bracht al zijn dagen in eenzaamheid werkend door in het British Museum, dezelfde plaats waar Karl Marx zoveel jaren eerder zijn meesterwerk schreef. In 1938 kwamen zijn ouders, die nog steeds in Duitsland woonden, hem in Londen bezoeken. Een wonder dat hun dat nog gelukt is. Norbert heeft ze gesmeekt om niet terug te gaan en bij hem in Londen te komen wonen. Maar zijn vader zei: ‘mij kunnen ze niks maken, ik heb nooit in mijn leven de wet overtreden, ik heb in Breslau als onbezoldigd adviseur voor de belastingdienst gewerkt, waarvoor ik zelfs een onderscheiding heb gekregen’. Ze zijn in volle onschuld teruggegaan naar hun vertrouwde huis in Breslau. Zijn vader is in 1940 een natuurlijke dood gestorven, zijn moeder is enkele jaren later opgepakt en vermoord. In 1939 kon Elias, nog net voor de oorlog, de twee dikke boekdelen waaruit zijn meesterwerk bestaat, slijten aan een Zwitserse uitgever.

Bovenstaande gegevens zijn voornamelijk ontleend aan zijn memoires, verschenen in: ‘De Geschiedenis van Norbert Elias’, aldaar pp. 93-165: ‘Notities bij mijn levensloop’. Dit boek bevat tevens het verslag van zeven uitvoerige gesprekken met hem over zijn leven: Heerma van Voss, A.J. en A. van Stolk, aldaar pp. 11-92. [3] Die gesprekken hebben plaatsgevonden in 1984, Elias was toen 87 jaar oud. Hij gaf te kennen dat hij nog altijd vond een belangrijke Boodschap voor de Wereld te hebben, waar de wereld helaas onvoldoende naar luisterde. ‘U hebt altijd een opmerkelijk groot zelfvertrouwen gehad’, zeggen zijn gesprekspartners.

Elias: ‘Ik weet niet of het opmerkelijk is, maar ik heb nooit betwijfeld of ik gelijk had.
Zij: ‘Het is toch opmerkelijk als iemand de zekerheid heeft dat wat hij zegt belangrijk is?’
Elias: ‘Ja, maar die zekerheid heb ik en had ik altijd, ook als die inging tegen de mensen die het voor het zeggen hadden. Daar ben ik wel een beetje trots op.’ Read more

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Hannah Arendt – Zur Person – Full Interview (with English Subtitles)

Hannah Arendt in the Rozenberg Quarterly

Anthony Court – Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism. Part One: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=3099
Anthony Court – Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism. Part Two:  http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=3115
Nima Emami – Hannah Arendt and The Green Movement: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=563

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