Reasons For Prosocial Behaviour Essay Research Paper

Reasons For Prosocial Behaviour Essay, Research Paper

Reasons for Prosocial Behaviour

The heroic story of Arland Williams, as described in Hero of the frozen river, is touching and extremely eye opening. This man gave away two chances at survival to save two complete strangers. Safran (1982), the author of this article, describes one of the most significant moments of the rescue: “They aimed one line at the balding man. Once more, he caught it. Did he think then, even briefly, of his own chances for survival?”. Different people would probably have taken the rope for themselves, however, various factors could help to explain why Arland Williams was so selfless.

One of the theories that has been brought forth is the inborn tendency which argues that “natural selection favours the genetic transmission of factors that predispose an organism to act prosocially towards other members of its species” (Alcock 1998). It is possible that Williams chose to be so brave and helpful due to a genetic basis. He was scared of ruining the financial lives of the employees at a troubled bank in Florida. He described this as one of his most difficult cases ever. This demonstrates his caring attitude and difficulty in hurting others. He always displayed optimism and helped anyone he could.

Also, prosocial behaviour and norms could have affected Arland’s actions while in the icy water of the Potomac River. Specifically, the “norm of social responsibility prescribes that people should help others who need help, regardless of whether they had helped the potential benefactors or might reciprocate in the future (Alcock, 1998). When

the author of the article explains that this man had to realize that his time was running out, his energy growing tired, and hope dimming, one would probably assume that at this point, the man could and would have taken his chance for survival. However, Williams chose to give the rope, a second time, to help a complete stranger. Obviously, not expecting reciprocation on the part of the one he helped, this definitely meets the standards of the norm of social responsibility.

Furthermore, prosocial behavior and learning may be responsible for Arland Williams’ actions. His mother calls him an “average” man, however he is said to always have cared for those around him and to have enjoyed everyday things. He was obviously a caring man with good morals and values and this is evident by his actions throughout his life. Within this theory, Williams best fits the cognitive-developmental theory which states that “people help other people because of a personal set of values and attitudes that obligate them to provide assistance in certain situations” (Alcock, 1998). One instance in his life that demonstrates this way of being perfectly is while at his after-prom party. His date, Peggy was approached by a man through the car window. Arland exited the vehicle and went toward the man offering him a cigarette and slowly coaxing him to leave. His date Peggy states: “Arland was understated ( ) but he knew how to act in an emergency” (Safran, 1982).

Other factors such as; mood, empathy, personality variables, gender differences, religion, and rural-urban differences may have helped to contribute to the actions of this amazing hero. However, his life pattern and his giving nature seen to point to the first three explanations discussed. Every person has their own reasons for helping others. The story of David Patterson who is behind bars and wishes to give his last kidney to his daughter is linked more highly to the theories of image repair and reparative altruism, or even the negative-state relief hypothesis. According to Doctor Jeffrey Kahn (1998), “trading the health or welfare of one person for another runs counter to our basic societal beliefs about justice and the rights of individuals”. Williams’ situation arose from different circumstances and demonstrates a grand example of an “average” man demonstrating prosocial behaviour.


Alcock, J. E., et al. (1998). A Textbook of Social Psychology, Scarborough, Ontario:Prentice Hall.

Kahn, Jeffrey P. (1998). Take My Kidney, Please. In CNN-Ethics Matters- January 11,1998 at

Safran, Claire. (October, 1982). Hero of the frozen river. In Reader’s Digest (pp. 69-73). Reader’s Digest Association (Canada) Ltd.


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