Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Robert M. Tipton


In today's complex society, no one can be independent and survive; people must help others. There appear to be limits on help giving or at least some conditions under which help is not given. For example, why did thirty-eight people stand silently and watch Kitty Genovese being murdered without one person calling the police or offering any assistance? In addition to making people more interdependent, our rapidly expanding technological society may also account for increased im-personalization and accompanying apathy and alienation. However, the research which has been done in the area of altruism or helping behavior seems to indicate that the variables involved are more complex than these"explanations" would indicate.

Funk and Wagnall's dictionary defines altruism as "devotion to the interests of others: disinterested benevolence.”1 Berkowitz and Daniels (1963, 1964) as well as Hornstein (1968) assume the existence of what they term a "social responsibility norm," while Leeds (1963) calls it the "norm of giving." Latane and Darley (1970) feel that many discussions of altruism have basic questions which must be separated if we are to explain this phenomenon adequately. The first of these questions is, "What is the underlying force in mankind toward altruism?" or "What motivates helping?" The second, which is more specific, asks, "What determines in a particular situation whether one person will help another?"

Schwartz (In Macaulay and Berkowitz) suggests that there is a three-step decision process which leads to behavior that is congruent with moral norms. First of all, the person must recognize the dependence of another on him by becoming aware that a potential action has consequences for the other. Secondly, he must have knowledge of the moral norms pertinent to this action and its consequences; and finally, he must ascribe some responsibility to himself for the action. Similarly, Darley and Latane (1968) have outlined a series of steps which describe the process of deciding to intervene in an emergency. He must notice that something is happening, interpret the event as an emergency, and decide that he has personal responsibility for coping with it. If any of these steps is omitted, then the bystander will remain inactive. However, they also point out that although many theories use the concept of norms to account for variations in helping from one situation to another, there is little evidence that people actually think about norms when choosing a course of action but instead seem guided by their first reactions.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission


Included in

Psychology Commons