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Differences In Helping: Does Money Make An Egoist Out Of You

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This study intended to show that differences in helping are influenced by the objective value of the lost object.


In sum, the present study indicates that people stole the money more often, whereas they helped more if they saw the confederate drop a less valuable object, namely the glove. Most people either wanted to steal the money or help immediately, only the minority ignored the object. This emphasizes that a valuable object is more salient in attention, causing the person to be actively egoistic or actively altruistic. Participants either engaged in helping behavior or preferred non-helping. Objects with value seem to make active behavior more likely.

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For the glove condition, around fifty percent passed by the money. This could be explained that these participants passively showed their egoistic side by caring more about themselves than the person in need. The other fifty percent of the people gave back the glove, hence displaying traits of empathy and altruism, therefore showing more active altruistic behavior. The Empathy-Altruism-Theory can be used to explain our results further: Some participants showed considerable effort compared to others to return the object, such as running after the already distanced confederate. It can imply that people are willing to help others.

The results may also be explained accordingly to the social responsibility norm: People help others when they see they need help, even if are anonymous and do not receive a reward afterward (Berkowitz, 1972). However, this norm seems to only apply in certain contexts. Looking back at the money condition, the social responsibility norm could not be applied, as we

Human beings conduct cost-benefit analyses subconsciously (Hogg & Vaughan, 2014). There is a high probability that keeping the money was perceived as a benefit and returning it as a risk. Therefore, some subjects preferred not to engage in helping behavior. In general, only a few bystanders did ignore the money. Milgram (year) hypothesized that people feel overwhelmed in crowds, hence the social norm to not help was established. This could also be seen in this study,. Furthermore, other variables were taken into accounts, such as the gender of the subjects and the number of the people the participants were accompanied by.

Nevertheless, one of the limitations of this field study was that the different numbers of males and females, which, even though only a small difference, might have influenced the results of the gender variable.

Surprisingly, a difference in helping behavior was found associated with the variable “number of people”. Members inside a group were more likely to show prosocial behavior than an alone bystander. These results can be related to the theory of the diffusion of responsibility (Hogg & Vaughan, 2014), which states that the more people surround you, the higher the probability that you will not engage in prosocial behavior. The likelihood to steal the money increases when surrounded by two or more persons.

Future research

This study had some limitations. To start with, although the observers tried to be as covert as possible during the observation, it was not entirely possible to

ensure that the participants felt unobserved. At the beginning of the study, the money was dropped close to the participant’s feet. This might have influenced the results; more people gave it back immediately compared to later during the experiment when the observer kept her distance. Therefore, this led to the conclusion that people are more willing to help if you do not have to put much effort into helping behavior. Moreover, all confederates dropping the objects were female, which may result in more helping behavior of the subjects (Latané & Dabbs, 1975). Another limitation might be the change of the confederate, as every experimenter switched roles. At the same time, this could prove external validity. A final limitation was the weather condition. During the glove condition, the weather was rainy. This also may have decreased the number of helpers as helping would be more effortful.

In conclusion, this study has brought up thought-provoking impulses for the differences in helping behavior regarding gender, valuable and less valuable objects, and group dynamics which future research could focus on.

07 September 2020

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