Prosocial Conformity: Prosocial Norms Generalize Across Behavior and Empathy

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2016 Aug;42(8):1045-62. doi: 10.1177/0146167216649932. Epub 2016 May 26.

Abstract

Generosity is contagious: People imitate others' prosocial behaviors. However, research on such prosocial conformity focuses on cases in which people merely reproduce others' positive actions. Hence, we know little about the breadth of prosocial conformity. Can prosocial conformity cross behavior types or even jump from behavior to affect? Five studies address these questions. In Studies 1 to 3, participants decided how much to donate to charities before learning that others donated generously or stingily. Participants who observed generous donations donated more than those who observed stingy donations (Studies 1 and 2). Crucially, this generalized across behaviors: Participants who observed generous donations later wrote more supportive notes to another participant (Study 3). In Studies 4 and 5, participants observed empathic or non-empathic group responses to vignettes. Group empathy ratings not only shifted participants' own empathic feelings (Study 4), but they also influenced participants' donations to a homeless shelter (Study 5). These findings reveal the remarkable breadth of prosocial conformity.

Keywords: altruism; conformity; empathy; prosociality; social influence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Social Conformity*
  • Social Norms*