Promotive Tension: The Basis of Prosocial Behavior from a Lewinian Perspective1


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    Preparation of this paper was supported by National Science Foundation Grant GS-2773. An expression of gratitude is owed to my research associates, especially Madeline Heilman, Susan Hodgson, Stella Manne, Hugo Masor, Elizabeth Seigel, and Kenneth Sole, and to my friend and colleague, Morton Deutsch. Through these past few years, their patient guidance and assistance has added immeasurable quality to the experimental and theoretical work reported in this paper.


Three categories of tension are identified as potential correspondents of psychological forces: tension arising from own needs, from induced needs, from the need to satisfy impersonal demands. To these, a fourth is added in which tensions are coordinated to someone else's desire to locomote toward or away from a region in his life space. From this Lewinian perspective, altruism and other less dramatic forms of prosocial behavior are part of a general theoretical question: What conditions determine whether individuals develop tension systems coordinated to another's goal attainment? The process by which tension is coordinated to another person's goal attainment is here called promotive tension arousal. Conditions that determine whether promotive tension arousal produces behavior that facilitates or hinders another's goal attainment are discussed.