Altruism is a subcategory of helping behaviour, and refers to an act that is motivated by the desire to benefit another rather than oneself (Batson & Coke, 1981; Berkowitz, 1970, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). The main issue with determining whether a helping act is truly altruistic is one of motivation; if we cannot determine whether an act stems from a desire to benefit others or some kind of ulterior motive, altruism is difficult to demonstrate (Rushton & Sorrentino, 1981, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). This essay will firstly discuss the Empathy-Altruism hypothesis, which rejects the claim that no behaviour is ‘really’ altruistic and will go on to discuss opposing theories of egoism such as negative state relief, reciprocity and
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As an example, a helping behaviour may be motivated by a desire for favourable treatment from another in the future (reciprocity), or they may feel a social obligation to help because they have learnt to help others in distress (social responsibility). As with the negative-state relief model, this theory suggests that helping behaviour is not motivated purely by the desire to benefit others, and as such is not ‘really’ altruistic. Reciprocity as a social norm should not be confused with ‘reciprocal altruism’ theory, which ultimately involves a reciprocal element even though the initial altruistic act was to one’s expense (Trivers, 1971, cited in Ashton, et al. 1997).
Last of the egoistic theories covered in this essay, is Piliavin’s bystander-calculus model (Piliavin et al. 1981, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2005). It suggests that a series of calculations are made prior to any act of helping behaviour by a bystander; culminating in an evaluation of the cost of helping versus the cost of not helping. By inference, if there is a cost associated with not helping, no bystander behaviour can be called ‘really’ altruistic in view of this model. This model has a strong flavour of Social Exchange Theory (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005), which argues that we assess costs and benefits before deciding to help. For example, even if you act to help at