Difference Between Altruism and Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial Behavior vs Altruism

Since altruism and prosocial behaviour are closely related concepts in psychology, this article attempts to explore the difference between altruism and prosocial behaviour. Prosocial behaviour can be understood as forms of helping behaviour towards someone in need which comes to a person voluntarily. There are different kinds of prosocial behaviour. Altruism is one such behaviour. It is when a person engages in helping behaviour without expecting anything in return. In psychology, it is believed that altruism is a motivational factor for prosocial behaviour. Hence, the aim of this article is to explain the two terms, prosocial behaviour and altruism and to highlight the differences between altruism and prosocial behaviour.

What is Prosocial Behavior?

Simply prosocial behaviour means almost any form of behaviour or actions that take place with the intention of helping someone. Volunteering, sharing, supporting someone in distress are some examples for prosocial behaviour. However, the motive for such behaviour can stem from either the true betterment of an individual, practical reasons or selfish motives. This is where prosocial behaviour greatly varies from altruistic behaviour, because in altruistic behaviour there is no room for selfishness.

Psychologists have often been curious about finding answers to why people engage in prosocial behaviour. One theory is of kin selection. According to this, there is a higher tendency to help those who are related to us than others. Evolutionary psychologists believe this is because of the need to carry on the genetic makeup for the future. Another theory called reciprocity norm speaks of the need to help someone so that he also might help in return. Empathy and altruistic personality traits are two more reasons for people to engage in prosocial behaviour. It is believed that if a person empathizes with someone who needs help, there is a greater chance for that person to step up and help. Finally, altruistic personality traits refer to some people being more prosocial and keen to help others whereas some are not. This is a result of both nature and nurture.

What is Altruism?

Altruism is when a person helps another without any interest in gaining benefits. In prosocial behaviour, there is a tendency to expect psychological or social rewards for helping behaviour. However, in altruism this is not the case. Such a person would not expect anything at all for his help. This is why some consider altruism as the purest form of prosocial behaviour. In simple language, it is selflessness. Even though there is debate whether human beings are capable of true altruism in the field of psychology, history bears evidence of instances of altruism. During times of war, sudden accidents, some people even risk their lives just to save others. This is the essence of extreme altruistic behaviour. However, it does not have to be such extremes, even in the day to day life people engage in altruistic behaviour that create a positive more humane society.

Difference Between Prosocial Behaviour and Altruism

What is the difference between Altruism and Prosocial Behavior?

With this awareness when looking at the two concepts of altruism and prosocial behaviour, what we can understand is that though they may appear rather similar, this is not the case. There is a difference between altruism and prosocial behaviour.

• In prosocial behaviour even though it is helping another there is a chance of gaining intrinsic or extrinsic reward. Also, the possibility for the helper to expect such a reward is possible. Simply in prosocial behaviour there is a gain for both parties.

• However, on the contrary, in altruism, the helper does not expect anything in return, so it is only beneficial to the person in need and society at large.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Helping the Homeless by Ed Yourdon (CC BY-SA 2.0)