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What Is Prosocial Behavior? Meaning and Examples

What Is Prosocial Behavior? Meaning and Examples

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Prosocial behavior involves actions that are designed to help other people or to benefit society as a whole. Examples of prosocial behaviors include being kind, comforting, generous, or helpful.

When people engage in prosocial behaviors, they often do so because they are concerned, compassionate, and empathetic. They want to ensure others have what they need, including support and protection.

Prosocial behaviors play an important part in social harmony. By engaging in these types of behaviors, people ensure that others have social support when they need it. Because people tend to reciprocate these acts of generosity and kindness, it also increases the likelihood that each person will have help if they need it.

Prosocial behavior occurs when individuals voluntarily engage in actions that benefit others or society as a whole. This can include acts of kindness, generosity, cooperation, and empathy aimed at improving the well-being of others without expecting personal gain in return.

How Do Psychologists Define Prosocial Behavior?

While there is no single definition of prosocial behaviors, psychologists suggest that it includes “voluntary actions that are intended to benefit or help an individual or group of individuals” (Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989).

Researchers note that most definitions emphasize the promotion of the welfare of people other than the individual. However, definitions vary in whether they emphasize intentions/motives, costs/benefits, or social factors.

Some other definitions offered by researchers in social psychology include:

  • “Prosocial behavior refers to actions that benefit others, such as cooperation, sharing, helping, and caring”
  • “Prosocial behavior covers the broad range of actions intended to benefit one or more people other than oneself”
  • “Voluntary, intentional behavior that results in benefits for another”
  • “Motivation with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare”
  • “A moral norm [which] implies certain social expectations of helping others in different social contexts”

Are Prosocial Behaviors and Altruism the Same Thing?

In addition to the considerable ambiguity over the precise definition of prosocial behaviors, researchers continue to debate the nature of the relationship between these behaviors and altruism.

Altruism and prosocial behavior are related, complementary concepts, but there key distinctions between the two ideas. Prosocial behavior is often characterized as an umbrella term that encompasses altruism.

Some theorists believe that intentions matter when it comes to distinguishing between prosocial and altruistic actions. Prosocial behaviors, they suggest, involve helping behaviors that ultimately confer some type of benefit to the self. For example, you help because it makes you feel good or because you think that the other person with reciprocate later on.

Altruism, on the other hand, is seen as doing something solely for the purpose of helping another person without any expectation of reward. (Although many might suggest that attention and recognition that comes from altruistic acts is a form of reward).

Examples of Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behaviors can take many forms. Some examples include:

  • Helping a stranger
  • Offering assistance to a friend
  • Lending your neighbor a hand
  • Donating time and material goods
  • Showing concern, care, and compassion to others
  • Listening to a friend talk about their problem
  • Comforting someone when they are upset.
  • Being there for others when they need help
  • Cooperating with a group 
  • Caring for animals
  • Doing things to protect the environment
  • Sharing things with other people
  • Leaping into action to save someone’s life

Why Do People Engage in Prosocial Behavior?

Prosociality is an essential part of human social life. Doing things on behalf of other people tends to be an automatic and universal part of human social behavior. It also has important implications for both individual and societal well-being and functioning. Helping behaviors aid individuals who are the recipients of assistance, but these actions also positively affect the givers, their communities, and society as a whole.

While we know that prosocial behavior is beneficial, the exact reasons why it happens have long puzzled researchers. Taking a strictly Darwinian, survival of the fittest perspective, doing things for other people that are costly or risky for an individual doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

Some of the factors that play a role in why people engage in other-oriented helping behaviors include:

Cognitive Factors

When determining whether to engage in prosocial behaviors, people may also weigh the potential costs and rewards of such actions.

Affective Factors

Emotions and arousal levels can also affect whether or not people engage in prosocial actions. Positive moods, for example, may cause people to engage in prosocial behaviors more often.


Empathy involves feeling what another person is feeling as if it were happening to you. It involves both cognitive and emotional processes. Experiencing higher levels of empathy is connected with engaging in more prosocial actions.

Evolutionary Factors

There may be some evolutionary basis for prosocial behaviors as well. Helping others may confer benefits for individuals by increasing their own likelihood of survival. People are also more likely to aid their genetic relatives, particularly close family members.

Social Factors

People are often socialized to engage in helpful, prosocial actions. For example, kids are frequently taught to be kind, think of others, and share. Engaging in these behaviors is viewed positively, so there are social rewards for displaying such actions.

Individual Factors

People also engage in prosocial behaviors for personal reasons, including the desire to boost their self-concept and feel good about themselves.

Research has found that prosocial behaviors early in life are primarily motivated by sympathy. As children develop, other motives begin to emerge, including the desire to improve a person’s reputation, to generate reciprocal behaviors, and to manage interpersonal obligations.

Types of Prosocial Behaviors

Prosocial behaviors are often divided into different types. One model (Dunfield, 2014) suggests that the three main subtypes of prosocial behavior are helping, sharing, and comforting.

  • Helping behaviors are those motivated by the need to alleviate a negative state. People see a need and take action to help fix the problem.
  • Sharing behaviors are motivated by seeing a need and recognizing that redistributing resources can help resolve the problem and bring relief. 
  • Comforting behaviors are motivated by recognizing another person’s negative emotional state and wanting to take steps to relieve their suffering.

Each of these types reflects responses to distinct negative states involving an instrumental need, an unmet material desire, or a state of emotional distress.

Another model suggests that prosocial actions tend to take three distinct forms:

  • Proactive prosocial behavior: Designed to provide benefits to the self
  • Reactive prosocial behavior: Involves responding to a person in need
  • Altruistic prosocial behavior: Benefits others without requiring personal gain

Benefits of Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior is important because it helps support individual well-being and contributes to healthy communities. Some of the key benefits of prosocial behavior include:

  • Better mental health and well-being
  • Increased levels of happiness
  • A sense of fulfillment and purpose in life
  • Stronger relationships that are built on trust and reciprocity
  • Greater social support systems that are pivotal for mental wellness
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Better resilience to life’s challenges
  • Lower rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues
  • Increased gratitude
  • More compassion and empathy
  • Stronger communities and better civic engagement
  • Decreased mortality and greater longevity
  • Better physical health

Engaging in prosocial behaviors also helps other people learn how to incorporate such actions into their own lives via observational learning. This can spread helpfulness and kindness in groups and improve social cohesion.

How to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

Cultivating prosocial behavior can help both individuals and lead to broader societal benefits as well. If you want to live in a better world, you can start by taking action in your own life. Such behaviors not only benefit your community, they serve as a model for others to emuluate. 

Some strategies to help foster greater prosocial behavior include:

Model Prosocial Actions

One of the best things you can do is to lead by example. Be empathetic, help out when you see a need, and don’t be afraid to volunteer for the causes that you care about.

Be Compassionate and Empathetic

Take the time to put yourself in other people’s shoes. How might you feel if you were in the same situation? When you understand other people and recognize their plight, you are more likely to be moved to help.

Be Prepared to Help

You are more likely to take action if you feel like you have the knowledge and skills to be helpful. Doing things like finding ways manage conflict and learning basic first aid and CPR skills can put you in a better position to lend a hand if someone is facing an emergency situation.

Increase Psychological Flexibility

Researchers have found that micro-interventions designed to increase prosocial behavior can be effective. This intervention (which lasted around 15 minutes) was designed to target psychological flexibility, an ability that includes intrapersonal skills that helps people become more open, aware, and likely to engage in behaviors that align with their values.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is prosocial behavior so important?

Prosocial behavior fosters positive relationships, builds strong communities, and promotes societal well-being. Helping others and cooperating strengthens the bonds between people. This doesn’t just help the giver feel good; it helps everyone thrive. Our prosocial actions create the foundation for a compassionate and empathetic society where people feel valued and supported.

What are some of the psychological effects of prosocial behavior?

Engaging in prosocial behavior can have numerous positive psychological effects. When individuals help others or contribute to the well-being of their community, they often experience feelings of fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness. These actions can boost self-esteem and create a sense of purpose and belonging. 

Prosocial behavior fosters positive social connections and relationships, which are crucial for overall mental well-being. Research suggests that individuals who regularly engage in acts of kindness and generosity tend to experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

How do personality traits influence prosocial behavior?

The Big 5 personality traits ( openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) can influence an individual’s likelihood of displaying prosocial tendencies. 

  • Agreeableness tends to be linked to more compassionate, empathetic, and cooperative traits, so people high in this personality dimension may be more inclined to help others and engage in altruistic acts. 
  • Conscientious individuals, characterized by their reliability and self-discipline, may also exhibit higher levels of prosocial behavior, as they are more likely to follow through on commitments and fulfill social obligations. 
  • Extraversion, which involves sociability and outgoingness, can facilitate prosocial behavior by increasing the likelihood of initiating social interactions and offering support to others. 
  • Openness to experience may lead individuals to be more receptive to diverse perspectives and more willing to engage in novel or unconventional forms of prosocial behavior. 
  • Neuroticism, on the other hand, characterized by emotional instability and sensitivity to stress, may hinder prosocial behavior by leading individuals to focus more on their own distress rather than the needs of others.

Key Points to Remember

  • Prosocial behavior involves actions that benefit others and are crucial for building strong, supportive communities.
  • Empathy, mood, and social influences significantly impact how likely people are to engage in prosocial actions.
  • Encouraging empathy, modeling positive behaviors, and building helping skills are effective ways to foster prosocial behavior.


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