Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

In exploring the human experience of purpose, the NPP project has identified several core themes that are particularly significant, and which provide a useful framework for organizing our activities.  This page displays the content from this website tagged for one of those themes: Purpose & Prosocial Behavior.

Work on Purpose & Prosocial Behavior  is centered on the discovery of factors that attract individuals to prosocial behaviors like volunteering, teaching, and serving others.  Here, we ask questions like: To what extent are the factors that promote the initiation of prosocial behavior the same as the factors which best sustain ongoing prosocial behavior? When are “push” factors more or less effective than “pull” factors in initiating and sustaining helping behavior? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

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Oct 29 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

The Secret to Building Rapport: What Extroverts Do That Introverts Don’t

Making friends is not always easy, but it seems to be more difficult for introverts than extroverts. Previous research has identified that the more extroverted you are, the happier you are and the more likely you are to be able to establish social rapport with others. But exactly what do extroverts have (or do) that introverts don’t to ease their social interactions? Recent research suggests that subconscious non-verbal behaviors may be the secret to the extroverts’ heightened ability to build rapport. 

By Brittany Christian
Oct 21 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

Only humble wishes: How humility fosters self-control

We all love celebrities who still do their own laundry and go grocery shopping despite their multi-million dollar assets. We also admire the stars of sports who give all the credit for their successes to their teams. Humility seems especially endearing in times like these where unshakable confidence seems to be the key to get ahead. Humility undoubtedly makes people nicer and more pleasant to be around, but maybe being humble also benefits people in entirely unexpected ways. Read here what humility has to do with eating chocolate! 

By Janina Steinmetz
Aug 13 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose Across the Lifespan

The Way I See It: Emotions That Exacerbate Egocentrism

Mentally stepping into another person’s shoes is believed to be one of the most remarkably unique capabilities of the human mind. But, just because we can entertain other perspectives, doesn’t imply that it comes easily.  Inherently egocentric, we tend to be tightly laced in our own point of view and it often takes a few tricky mental maneuvers to get into someone else’s sneakers. What we might not realize, however, is that our own emotional states may undermine even the most sincere desires to connect with another person by understanding their point of view. Recent research identifies the types of emotions that exacerbate our natural tendency to (wrongly) assume everyone sees the world just as we do.

By Brittany Christian
May 22 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

When Getting Less Makes You More Generous

Although fairness is an important concern that can bring a sense of purpose into one’s life, it can also lead to inefficacy as it can prevent people from giving more to others for fear that they will appear unfair if they create inequality between others. That is, people may prefer to be generous to others, but they may fail to do so because of a concern with fairness. In such situations, must fairness and generosity conflict with one another? NPP members Shoham Choshen-Hillel, Alex Shaw, and Eugene Caruso from the University of Chicago Booth demonstrate one way that people can give more to one person than another without being perceived as unfair. 

By Alex Shaw
Mar 30 2015
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

How self-control improves ethical decision making

People value moral behavior and want to resist the temptation to behave unethically. Taking the moral high ground not only helps us to achieve a sense of purpose, but also respects the purpose and well being of others. Unfortunately, opportunities to behave unethically present themselves on a daily basis, and at times, people fall prey to these temptations. Spouses are unfaithful, teenagers shoplift, and powerful individuals abuse their positions of authority. A recent review article suggests that self-control plays a critical role in promoting ethical behavior and that studying self-control conflicts can help explain why people fail to behave ethically. 

By Kaitlin Woolley, Brittany Christian
Feb 23 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

How Having Less Can Make You More Rational

Poverty and scarcity are a huge burden on people that can prevent them from pursuing their purpose. It is difficult to think about one’s broader purpose when one is distracted by hunger or worrying about how one is going to pay one’s next bill. While these negative facts about scarcity are well known, is there any sense in which scarcity can have a positive influence on people? New Paths to Purpose member Anuj Shah along with Eldar Shafir and Senhil Mullainathan recently found that scarcity can sometimes lead people to engage in more rational decision-making. 

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou
Feb 19 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

Righting Wrongs and Paying it Forward: How Emotions Promote Unique Prosocial Behaviors

You don’t have to watch the news for long before the stories begin to tug on your heart strings. Whether filling you with sadness or rage, the moral tragedies prevalent in our world today may be so heart-breaking that we begin to question the very purpose and meaning of life. On the opposite end of the moral spectrum, random acts of kindness, like the stranger who helps an elderly woman across the road, or of generosity, such as a selfless donation to help those in need, renew our faith in humanity and remind us of what matters most in life. But can witnessing good and bad moral actions actually affect our own behaviors and if so, what types of prosocial actions might these emotions promote?

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz
Jan 30 2015
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan

How Thinking about our Legacy Can Save the World

Even as scientists become increasingly concerned about the possible environmental havoc climate change can wreak on our environment, the public is generally apathetic about doing their part to reduce this growing threat. The benefits of doing nothing are so immediate and concrete whereas the apparent harms are so distant and abstract. How can we get people to act more purposefully, joining forces with their fellow human beings to combat the looming threat of climate change? Lisa Zaval, Ezra Markowitz, and Elke Weber conducted some research that suggests that if you want people to help the environment today, you need to make them think about their legacy in the future.

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou
Jan 23 2015
Practical Tools for Purpose
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior

To decrease your bias, increase your love

As we reflect on the remarkable life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded of the transformative power of love and kindness. We have come a long way in the fight for justice and equality since the days before King. However, our country’s dark history of segregation and racism still has a distressingly strong foot hold today. One need not look very far to see that we are a country divided in many ways, whether racially, politically, financially or spiritually. Negative attitudes (both conscious and subconscious) towards individuals that are different than us often underlie horrific, shameful and deeply unjust behavior, undermining the purpose and meaning that stem from unity and deep social connection. The famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” echo just as loudly today as they did 52 years ago. How then can we heed his call to foster love for others in our own lives in order to drive out the negative attitudes that often live just under the surface of our conscious awareness? Recent research suggests that practicing Lovingkindness meditation might be one small thing we can do at home every day to increase our regard for other humans more generally and reduce our biases against groups that are regularly marginalized in our society.

By Brittany Christian, Janina Steinmetz
Dec 20 2014
Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
Purpose & Well-Being

When it Comes to Being Nice, It May not Pay to Go the Extra Mile

During the holiday season we are often told that it is better to give than to receive. These simple words speak to the importance of generosity to leading a balanced life. Giving to others not only gives us a deep sense of purpose, but it also lets others know that we are a nice and generous person. To say it simply, it pays to be nice. If being nice does indeed pay, does it pay even more to be exceptionally nice to others? Recent work from Nadav Klein and Nicholas Epley suggest a surprising answer to this question…

By Alex Shaw, Haotian Zhou

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