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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Reaping what has yet to be sown: Planning good future behavior increases bad behavior now
We all sometimes take credit for things we haven’t done yet but are simply planning on doing. Maybe we are treating ourselves to a cookie now that we’ve decided to have a salad for dinner, or we’re buying something expensive because that bonus will be coming next month. Whereas planning future good deeds can motivate our striving for purpose and meaning in the present, recent research suggests that the picture may be different when it comes to planning moral deeds. Could it be that planning on doing something good tomorrow make you a worse person today?
The Path to Purpose and Embracing Diversity
The United States is becoming increasingly diverse, which brings with it both new opportunities for positive interracial interactions, but also the possibility for interracial anxiety and conflict. In order to reap the benefits of diversity and to get a sense of purpose from interacting with new groups of others, it seems essential to minimize interracial anxiety. Interestingly, new research from Anthony Burrow suggests that having a sense of purpose in life can make one more comfortable interacting with members of other races.
Forgive and forget: Be generous with others for your own benefit and meaning
Forgiving others can sometimes be very difficult. When we feel mistreated or disrespected, it may seems natural to hold a grudge at least for a while. After all, should we even forgive others easily, or will that just encourage them to mistreat us again? However, recent research suggests that being generous with forgiveness may not only benefit others, but may even increase our own sense of meaning in life.
In Difficult Times, You Are as Empathic as You Believe You Can Be
Empathy lies at the heart of social connection, promoting pro-social behavior and paving a pathway for an enriched, purpose-filled life. Unfortunately, however, the perceived costs (e.g., time, money, emotional effort) of acting empathically can encourage us to turn a blind eye to those truly in need. Recent research from Dr. Karina Schumann, Professor Jamil Zaki and Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University suggests that our beliefs about the concept of empathy itself (whether it is fixed or malleable) may be a key to unlocking empathy ― particularly when it is effortful.
Inside the Science of Purpose: Professor David Rand
David Rand in an interview for our “Inside the Science of Purpose” series: “External incentives, like threats of punishment for selfish behavior or promises of reward for cooperative behavior, can be very effective at getting people to cooperate. But these external incentives often undermine intrinsic motivations – if you feel like you are being prosocial under duress, this prevents you from deriving a sense of purpose and meaning from your actions. Thus we are exploring ways to incentivize good behavior that are somewhat more subtle, and so may leave intrinsic motivations intact.”
Trying to Help Others? Be Concrete
Bringing happiness to others is an important way to promote purpose and happiness in our lives. However, recent research by Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker, and Michael Norton suggests that the type of goals we pursue when trying to make others happy (abstract or concrete) might importantly influence our own happiness.
NPP Network Members Convene to Discuss Multiple Paths to Purpose
Inside the Science of Purpose: Anuj Shah
Anuj Shah in an interview for our “Inside the Science of Purpose” series “…taking a closer look at a rather mundane (but often overlooked) obstacle facing many of the world’s poor; namely, chronic pain…when absorbed by pain, our productivity suffers and our mental capacities are diminished…It may be the case that basic access to effective pain treatment can alleviate one of the main barriers to a life of purpose for the world’s poor.”
Why Do People Match Others Together?
Why do people connect other people to each other and to relevant opportunities, even when there are no tangible benefits? A new paper by Lalin Anik and Michael Norton suggests that a sense of purpose may have something to do with it.
Inside the Science of Purpose: David Yeager
What free method can motivate teenagers to persist in challenging school tasks? Read our interview with NPP researcher Professor David Yeager, in which he addresses this question as well as the direction he thinks behavioral science should be heading.