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How far can laboratory research on bystander intervention account for ‘real life’ acts of heroism?

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How far can laboratory research on bystander intervention account for 'real life' acts of heroism? Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859 and is perhaps the starting point for the paradoxical issue of altruism and one of its more specific sub-components bystander intervention. According to the biological rules of our evolution, only the fittest of any species survive. The act of helping others contradicts this rule because the stronger are enabling the weaker to survive, thus interrupting the process of natural selection. In a more advanced stage of Darwinism grew the industrialised nations. Capitalist societies are themselves characterised by their philosophy of individualism which is in direct conflict with the theory of altruism. Regardless of this, 'real life' acts of heroism do take place and in their vocation of understanding and predicting human behaviour, psychologists are obliged to account for these acts. Laboratory studies on bystander intervention, the less extreme form of heroism, provide a vital insight into the processes that are involved in these decisions although the extent to which these results can be generalised is still under debate. Laboratory research has generated theories and these can then be applied to real life situations. ...read more.


However, incidents of life-threatening heroism would seem to be an extreme means of restoring equilibrium in the individual. Other studies on bystander intervention have found that mood can affect the probability of an individual performing an heroic act. Positive moods appear to increase helping generally. Isen and Levin (1972) for example, found that male subjects given a cookie to put them in a good mood were more likely to volunteer to 'help' confederates than to 'annoy' them. However, acts of heroism are often so extreme that it would seem unlikely that they would be affect by something as mundane as the giving of a biscuit. Although these studies on helping and bystander intervention demonstrate circumstances in which individuals are more likely to help, they do not explain the possible sacrifice that some are prepared to make in order to save the life of another. The two previous explanations for altruistic behaviour present a rather cynical view of human nature. However, some theorists believe that some forms of helping, and particularly acts of heroism, are not necessarily attributable to selfish motivation (e.g. Batson; 1994). However, as Lord (1997) ...read more.


They do however, suggest that further studies could include groups of subjects that are matched for their exposure to crime. They also comment that their sample and the samples of other similar studies may not be representative because those who do not intervene, for reasons of social desirability to not come forward in order for their experience to be examined and accounted for. This study goes some way in accounting for 'real life' acts of heroism. It presents a naturalistic setting, which the previous studies neglected to provide, and suggests some plausible accounts for bystander intervention and acts of heroism. However, the majority of studies do not seem to account for cases of extreme altruism that take place in real life. Many go some way to explaining why many people do not intervene to help others. Self-interest appears to dominate all explanations. As Batson (1994) comments, the main assumption in most research into bystander intervention "is that all human action is ultimately directed toward self-interest." (p. 603), and yet we still persist in volunteering, contributing and rescuing. Altruism is a paradox which defies biological explanation. Laboratory research into bystander intervention goes some way to accounting for acts of heroism but still fails to explain the point in our evolution where we began to perform acts of complete selflessness. ...read more.

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