Prosocial behavior is voluntary behavior that benefits others. It is behavior exhibited by humans as well as some cognitively advanced animals such as whales.
This is an important behavior for the development of cooperative societies that help all members of the society to thrive.
There are many benefits to living in a prosocial group. For example, there is the protection from predators that larger numbers afford. Working in groups also helps ensure a stable food supply.
Examples of prosocial behavior include volunteerism, sharing, donating, and cooperating. Following social norms and social conformity are also examples of prosocial behavior.
Prosocial behavior is a voluntary act that is meant to benefit the needs of another person, group, or society. It tends to also be a subcategory of ethical behaviors.
The needs of the person being helped can be instrumental, emotional, or resource-relevant. So, prosocial behavior can help someone achieve a goal, satisfy an emotional need, or provide a necessary resource.
The act is supposed to be done without consideration of receiving any benefit. This is a crucial element, because if we do something for a reward, it is no longer a purely prosocial act, and in some regards, it is also no longer completely voluntary.
1. Being Empathetic
Empathy is the ability to understand the actions and feelings of another person. It can contain both emotional and cognitive components.
In terms of emotion: being empathetic means being able to sense what another person is feeling, and maybe even feel those emotions yourself. On the cognitive side, empathetic means being able to put yourself in another’s person’s shoes and understand their point of view. It is a more analytical understanding.
We can display empathy for another person simply by listening to them when they feel distressed or upset about something. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to resolve the issue that is upsetting them.
Showing empathy includes: active listening, validating their feelings, and being supportive. Sometimes people don’t need a solution, they just need to be heard and feel that someone cares.
Of course, volunteering is the most obvious example of prosocial behavior. It involves an action that will help others, but does not directly benefit ourselves.
There are so many ways that people volunteer. Working in a soup kitchen for the homeless is very popular. Donating old clothes to charity is always helpful. During the December holidays, you can always see a Santa Claus standing in front of a store entryway accepting donations to the Salvation Army.
If you are looking for a more labor-intensive volunteering option, there are plenty of those too. Greenpeace and Habitat for Humanity are two very well-known organizations. You can help combat pollution or build a house for the poor just about anywhere in the world with either of these charities.
3. Sharing Toys
Anyone that has children or works in a kindergarten will tell you that even very young children will display prosocial behavior.
For example, when one child is crying, another child may approach and look very intently at that child’s face. It might take a 3-year-old a little bit of time to process what is happening, but once they have figured it out, they will try to help.
That help might be in the form of a hug, giving the child a toy, or even offering a sticker. Young children really love stickers, so this gesture might seem small, but in the world of kindergarteners, it is actually very powerful.
The is also an example of a learned behavior, as children need to be taught this by adults when they are growing up.
4. Planting Trees
By now we all know about climate change and the destruction of rainforests and other wooded habitats in many parts of the world. This is called deforestation.
Deforestation is having an effect on our way of life that is becoming increasing severe.
Trees help process CO2 and provide valuable places for animals to live. They have a direct effect on ecosystems and weather patterns as well. Therefore, planting trees and helping counterbalance the effects of deforestation is a very worthy way of displaying prosocial behavior.
Whether you plant a few trees around your neighborhood or take part in a larger scale endeavor, planting trees will help the planet and everyone that lives on it.
5. Helping the Elderly
It may seem trite, but helping the elderly is a noble gesture. If you are lucky enough, one day you will be old too. Unfortunately, our bodies are just not as capable as they once were. Climbing stairs or lifting objects can be quite difficult.
So, helping an older person carry their groceries out to their car is a lot more helpful than you might think. There are lots of other ways to help, such as mowing their lawn or even changing a few lightbulbs. Small gestures can go a long way.
These are all examples of prosocial behavior; helping someone else even though we do not anticipate a later reward.
6. Offering Encouragement
Offering encouragement is a behavior that may not be of direct benefit to yourself, but could be highly beneficial to the people around you.
Modern life can be a bit stressful. There are multiple pressures at work. Parenting can seem like an endless list of tasks that are never appreciated. Sometimes marital difficulties and our dreams of living happily ever after seem like a foolish delusions. The list goes on.
Suffering alone just makes things worse. A lot of people have no one they can turn to when they are feeling down. So, offering a few words of encouragement can come at just the right time.
Being a good friend or considerate colleague doesn’t really cost us much. However, letting a person that is feeling the full burdens of life, know that someone cares, can really have an impact. All it takes is an invite to have a cup of coffee.
7. Paying for Someone’s Groceries
Every year or so, the local news carries a story about someone paying for another person’s groceries.
The scenarios are remarkable similar. First, a struggling single mom is at the cashier, nervously watching the bill climb as each item is scanned. Of course, her three children are trying to add more candy to the pile.
When the final tally appears, the mom knows she’s in trouble. So, she nervously looks over the items and tries to choose a few to return; just to get the bill down a bit. That’s when the magic happens.
Another person in line is watching and decides to step-up and save the day. They offer to pay for the groceries. At first the mom has to politely refuse, but with a little coaxing, the stranger will convince her to accept.
Helping someone when they really need it, on the spot, always warms the heart.
8. Humpback Whales
Prosocial behavior is not limited to humans. There are in fact, a large number of cases on record of humpback whales protecting other species from orcas.
When hearing the distress calls of other marine species, such as seals or gray whales, humpbacks have been observed coming to the rescue. They engage in “mobbing”, which involves several humpbacks encircling and harassing the orcas. The humpbacks thrash their tails and make loud vocalizations, and have even been observed floating near a seal calf to ward off the attacking orcas.
Marine scientists have been amazed and slightly puzzled by these acts. Saving the life of another animal species does not seem to provide any benefit to the humpbacks at all.
So, why do they do it? So far, no one knows for sure, but you can see them in action here:
9. Sharing Garden Goodies
Growing vegetables is a true passion. It takes a lot of time and care; planting, watering, trimming, checking soil pH levels. In the end, what you have are fruits and vegetables that were grown with your heart and soul.
Giving a basket or two to your neighbors is a fine example of prosocial behavior. You don’t expect anything in return. You certainly don’t ask for any renumeration.
Of course, it is possible to theorize that giving vegetables from your garden is not without self-benefit. Creating good relations with one’s neighbors is just smart. Cynicism aside however, a gesture of good will creates positive karma in the cosmos. We all know the cosmos could use more of that.
10. Helping a Friend Move
No one likes to move. It is one of the most unpleasant tasks that we all must endure one time or another.
In addition to the days spent packing boxes and wrapping kitchenware in newspaper, there is also the lovely ordeal of deciding which things should be discarded, finally.
But the real fun starts with the heavy-lifting. Armchairs and sofas, chest of drawers and mattresses all have to be loaded onto the truck. Oh, and don’t forget the dining room table and media-center wall unit.
Most of us know how unpleasant moving is, and we absolutely don’t like asking for help. It really is asking a lot. However, if you have really good friends, you won’t have to. They will just volunteer. They know you don’t want to put them on the spot, so they just offer anyway. That is a sign of true friendship.
11. Organ Donation
There’s prosocial behavior, and then there’s prosocial behavior. Donating one’s organs after passing away is one of the most noble examples of helping others.
Every year, many people are in dire need of an organ transplant, but the number of viable options falls far short of the need.
For this reason, filling out an organ donation card and donating vital organs, after you no longer need them, can help fill this void. In fact, according to experts, as many as 50 people can be helped from just one donor.
Yes, this example might make you feel a little queasy, but that just makes this gesture even more honorable.
12. Adhering to Social Norms
A simpler version of prosocial behavior is, simply, to adhere to the social norms of your society or culture. We are raised to do this and, in a selfish sense, we need to do this in order to be accepted into society.
However, it’s also technically voluntary, and people do this to a greater or lesser extent.
An example of a social norm that you might adhere to is exhibiting respectfulness in social situations. Respect examples can include shaking hands to meet people, letting someone merge in front of you in traffic, and waiting in a queue. These behaviors are partly voluntary but if you didn’t follow them, you may be crossing some cultural taboos which may lead you to being ostracized.
13. Donating to Goodwill
Donating your old and unwanted goods to goodwill is a prosocial alternative to throwing these goods into the trash.
It benefits society because it allows other people to use goods that would otherwise go to waste, and it’s good for the environment because it reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills.
Furthermore, it’s generally a voluntary act that many people do not choose to participate in. It’s often just easier to through your old goods into the bin and send it to the garbage tip. Thus, it’s a somewhat higher-order prosocial behavior.
14. Giving Blood
From time to time, you hear a radio or television announcement that the local hospital is low on blood. Blood drives are necessary in these situations to help trauma victims in need.
But governments can’t force you to give them your blood. So, it’s up to the goodwill of people exhibiting strong prosocial behaviors to give blood.
Giving blood can also be seen by prosocial people as a social obligation. If you ever need blood, there will be a supply available because other people were kind enough to donate when they didn’t have to.
15. Team Sports
Team sports help to teach young people to be prosocial. A team sport like soccer may require players to pass the ball to a teammate who is in more of a position to score a goal than you.
Here, you’re potentially sacrificing the social status of being the goal scorer for the good of the social group.
Even in individual sports we see prosocial behavior occasionally. For example, we occasionally see heartwarming footage of runners helping other runners across the line in a marathon, despite this slowing them down! Here is a great example:
Prosocial behavior comes in many forms. It has been an integral part of human civilizations for thousands of years. Observations of prosocial behavior have even been observed in interspecies rescues.
People can engage in acts of kindness ranging from helping the elderly carry their groceries, to helping a friend load heavy objects onto a truck for hours. Some people are so committed to prosocial acts that they will move to another country to build houses or combat pollution.
No matter what form the act takes, the driving motivation is the same; to help others. Those others could be just one person, a group of people, or perhaps an entire society. Overall, prosocial behaviors are ethical rather than unethical behaviors, that help us live in a peaceful cohesive society.
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