Prosocial behavior occurs when people act to benefit others rather than themselves. Altruism, cooperation, and caregiving are a few examples of prosocial behavior.
Prosocial behavior is a central part of morality. As social psychologist Daniel Batson notes, much of interpersonal morality involves “giving weight to the interests and desires of others in situations in which our interests and theirs conflict.”
Research reveals that those who act prosocially tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer. Those who don’t act prosocially tend to suffer the psychological cost that comes with guilt.
Prosocial behavior is contagious. Studies show that people who see others act prosocially are more likely to do so themselves.
People also seem to have an innate preference for prosocial behavior. For example, in one study, even babies preferred to play with a doll that they saw act in a helpful way over another doll that they saw act in a selfish way.
Law professor Lynn Stout observes, “unselfish prosocial behavior is so omnipresent in American society that it often goes unnoticed.” Indeed, consider how frequently people help each other, donate to charity, and volunteer. For example, in 2014 charitable giving reached an all time high with more than $358 billion in donations. And overall, 45% of Americans volunteer, making the United States third in the world for offering time and talents to help others.
So, while prosocial behavior may often go unnoticed, it can be argued that it is the cornerstone of a just and decent society.