Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Fall, 1996
Miami University

Altruism On the Far Side

Kelley Guenther, James Lesniak, Angela Magnuson, & Kelly Underwood




Note -- The two cartoons previously shown here have been removed at the insistence of Mr. Larson's representatives, who appearently didn't see the value in offering them as illustrations of psychological concepts as analyzed below. One cartoon showed a group of bystanders around a body, and a boomerang was lying beside it. One of the bystanders was a kangaroo, saying to himself "that was meant for me," rather than expressing sympathy for the
victim. A second cartoon showed a primitive village with a number of people standing around a body being devoured by ants. The caption referred to the bystanders as being quoted later as "being horrified, but not wanting to get involved," a reference to the famous Kitty Genevese case.

Farside, by Gary Larson

      Our interpretation of these FarSide cartoons is centered around prosocial motivation and helping behavior.

      Our discussion focused on two psychological notions of helping behavior. These two possible explanations as to why people help are egoism and altruism. Altruism is defined as behavior that helps a person in need and is driven purely by the desire to help the other person. Class discussion revolved around the question of whether or not altruism actually existed. The class, for the most part, arrived at the decision that altruism does exist. It was decided that motivation to help others is really altruistic in spite of the fact that the end result is self-benefitting. Egoism was the second topic we discussed in relation to the cartoons. Egoism is the idea that people help each other based on some sort of personal gain. The class seemed to understand quite easily the concept of egoism and relate to it on a personal level.

      The analysis of the cartoons also involved the bystander effect. The bystander effect states that helping behavior decreases as the number of bystanders increases. The bystander effect is further illustrated in a study conducted by Latane and Darley. In this study, male undergraduates were put in a smoke-filling room either alone, with two non-reacting confederates, or in groups of three. The results revealed that 10% reacted when they were with the two confederates, 38% reacted in groups of three, and 75% reacted when they were alone. The results of this study illustrate the bystander effect.

      Diffusion of responsibility was another topic we discussed in relation to the cartoon. Diffusion of responsibility is an explanation for the bystander effect. This explanation states that bystanders assume that someone else will take the responsibility to help the person/persons in need. The Kitty Genovese case and another similar occurrence were discussed in class to help illustrate the concept of diffusion of responsibility.

      Reluctance to help was also covered in our class discussion. There are many reasons why people chose not to help in a situation. One explanation for people being reluctant to help is because different people define situations in different ways. Some may see an emergency and some may look right over the situation and label it as insufficient in terms of help required. The fact that people may be reluctant to help because they don't have the skill or tools necessary or available was also discussed in class. Overall, the class found our discussion and analysis of our cartoon to be interesting and pertinent to their everyday lives.

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Sunday, April 03, 2005 at 13:25:38. This document has been accessed 1770 +  1  times since 1 June 1996. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman