Psychologist Charles Daniel Batson, like other authors in the field of psychology, tries to explain altruistic motivation based on empathic feeling.
In order to be able to link empathy to helping behavior, this researcher proposes different stages such as the perception of need, the evaluation of one’s well-being, taking a step back and finally deciding to help the hedonic calculation, which makes reference to the balance between costs and benefits.
In this article we tell you what Batson brings up in his empathy-altruism hypothesis and what is the relationship between these two concepts.
What is Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis?
Daniel Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis considers that feeling empathy for someone will lead us to behave altruistically towards that person. To better understand this hypothesis, we must first explain what it consists of and how each term that composes it is defined.
The first concept we find is empathy, which is understood as the ability to understand the emotions of others and to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Not only will it be enough to understand what others are like, but it is also necessary to assess the situation. take into account the perspective and situation of the other, feel the other’s emotions as their own.
For example, given the situation of a friend who has cooked all afternoon to make us dinner and is burnt, to empathize would be to understand and let him know that we understand that he is frustrated by the situation ; on the other hand, if we act as if it did not matter, by minimizing, we do not put ourselves in their shoes and we do not show empathy.
As for altruism, this phenomenon consists of act with the aim of seeking the good of the otherthat is to say to benefit him and not to seek mine exclusively. A behavior contrary to altruism would be selfishness, where one acts in order to please oneself.
For example, altruistic behavior would be to help a friend move without expecting anything in return, with no intention of returning the favor at some point, just for the sake of helping.
Stages of prosocial behavior
Batson attempts to explain prosocial and altruistic behavior through a six-step approach: perception of need, evaluation of one’s well-being, taking a step back, empathy and altruistic motivation, hedonic calculation and helpful behavior. All are important for the subject to decide to help.
To better understand how empathy arises, we need to know the concepts that influence it. The perception of need is the balance we make between the current state of the subject we want to help and the ideal state of well-being; the appreciation of their well-being is linked to the emotional bond that we have with the subject and to what extent we are concerned and putting into perspective refers to the fact of being able to put oneself in the other’s shoes.
The author believes that the first two, the perception of need and the appreciation of well-being, are the starting point for the emergence of empathic feeling., both being of equal importance. Only the perception of the needs of the other does not imply putting into perspective, but it influences the appreciation of his well-being, because it is easier for us to put ourselves in the subject’s shoes.
As we have seen, the hypothesis raises a relationship between empathy and altruistic behavior. The first term, empathy, is defined as a feeling that predisposes to the emergence of a motivation which in this case is altruistic behavior, also called prosocial, with the main aim of improving the well-being of the person. affected. .
But Batson still defines a further step in the useful direction to be taken; and is that we can have an altruistic motivation but not perform the help. It will depend on the hedonic calculation, which is done taking into account the positive and negative consequences of the action. This way we will only help if we see it possible, it is effective and the latter weighs more in the cost-benefit balance.
Opposition to the empathy-altruism hypothesis
Daniel Batson believes that empathy generates motivation in individuals to act altruistically. But not everyone agrees with this statement, as there are theories and authors who believe that altruistic behavior as such does not exist, which would be an ideal anyway, ensuring that people always act in search of their own benefit and if the sum of the cost of the reward is positive, ie if helping the other is more positive than negative for us.
Those who oppose this assumption say that whenever we act in favor of another person, we do it with dual intent., because we only act if it doesn’t cost us and benefit us or make us feel better. Thus, it would be difficult to identify fully altruistic behavior, because to a greater or lesser extent it will always end up bringing us something good, if only to feel good for having helped.
Another notable point: the hypothesis is mentioned to help only one person, but if we apply it to reality, the number of people who may need help is increasing. Therefore, it would be interesting to study how this affects the appearance of other victims who ask us in our process of motivation, of prosocial conduct. Likewise, there is another variable to consider: the limitation of our useful behavior. Although there are different victims, our behavior cannot cover them all, having to decide how to act.
Despite the opposition he received, Batson’s Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis maintains and has proven through research and studies, over 35 experiments, which show that empathy and altruism are linked and than it is not true that people always act expecting something in return when we support each other.
In this regard, it should be noted that Batson was not the only one to plant the influence of empathy for the achievement of altruistic behavior; there are other well-known authors such as the naturist Charles Darwin or the philosopher David Hume who claim that empathy is fundamental for the subject to act in a prosocial manner.
The good of the other is good for us
It is also difficult to assess whether a behavior is based on genuine altruism, because it will be difficult to know for sure what the ultimate intention was or how you were looking to feel while having this behavior. But what we’ve observed, being the thing most likely to happen, is that there is a backlash between making the other person feel good and feeling good about themselves.
If we help another individual with the intention of making them feel better, that is, altruistically, seeing that their condition improves, it will also make us feel good about ourselves if we are. empathetic. Feeling better is not our main goal, but it is a fact that appears when we see the improvement of the other person..
Considering what has been raised so far, altruistic behavior may be related to self-interest even though this is not its ultimate purpose. By acting with the intention of helping the other, we will also gain ourselves indirectly, which will improve our self-image, our self-esteem, we will feel better about ourselves, thus increasing our chances of acting again. altruistic way. Acting altruistically benefits everyone.
On the other hand, if the intention of my behavior towards the other is to favor myself (in other words, we act selfishly for the main purpose of our own benefit), it ends up generating bad relationships and anger, as the other person realizes our intentions, or not receiving what we expect, there is a negative reaction that will break the relationship with that person.
This way, if we want to maintain good relationships and social bonds, the best way to act is altruisticbecause it is what allows connections to continue to give and stay, without being severed by self-interest or by pretending to do a favor. Acting without expecting anything in return sets us free, reassures us and makes us happier if we receive a good deed in return, because it is not what we expected.
- Ambrona, T (2012) The generalization of the empathy-altruism link when others need it today. Doctoral thesis. Department of Social Psychology and Methodology. Autonomous University of Madrid.
- Soler, LL. (2020) Selflessness and Empathy. Degree in Philosophy. University of the Balearic Islands.
- Fernández, M. (2015) Empathy and prosocial acts: on the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Philosophy and history of science in the southern cone.