The perception of nonemergency helping situations: Costs, rewards, and the altruistic personality

Authors

  • Kenneth W. Kerber

    Corresponding author
    1. College of the Holy Cross
      Reprints are available from Kenneth W. Kerber, Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610.
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  • This project was supported with funds from the Department of Psychology, Holy Cross College. Portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Baltimore, April, 1981. The author would like to thank Dr. Royce Singleton, Jr. for his valuable comments on the manuscript and Richard W. Wren for his help during all stages of this research.

Reprints are available from Kenneth W. Kerber, Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610.

Abstract

Individual differences in the perception of nonemergency helping situations were examined using descriptions of five situations in which a person asked for assistance. Four versions of each situation were created so as to differ in the costs (low vs. high) and rewards (low vs. high) associated with helping. One hundred and thirty-two undergraduates indicated the amount of help they would be willing to provide in each situation and rated the perceived rewards and costs of providing help. Subjects also completed the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale and a measure of altruism taken from the Omnibus Personality Inventory. Controlling for individual differences in approval motivation, willingness to help in the five nonemergency situations was negatively related to the costs for helping and was positively related to the rewards for helping and to personality differences in altruism. In addition, highly altruistic persons viewed the identical situations as more rewarding and less costly than persons low in altruism. Individual differences in willingness to help may reflect variations in situation perception. In this case, the altruistic person would be an individual who consistently evaluates helping situations more favorably in terms of the potential rewards and costs of providing help.

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