Curr Biol. 2016 Aug 22;26(16):R748-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.025.


Prosociality refers to behaviours that are intended to benefit others. This definition appears to be so straightforward that it hardly bears mentioning: like certain forms of adult entertainment, we know it when we see it. Yet, determining what counts as prosocial is not as simple as it first appears. There are numerous behaviours that appear prosocial but, on scrutiny, may not have been intended and motivated for the well-being of others. Consider a banal scenario: a seated passenger on a crowded bus stands up and someone takes his seat. Did the person standing up intend that someone else take the seat? Perhaps he was getting off the bus at the next stop and did not care if anyone sat there. But what if he remained standing for several stops, or made an overt gesture such as waving his hand toward the seat? In that case it is more likely that he intended for someone to have his place on the bus. But what about his underlying motives? Maybe he was putting himself in a better position to pick the pocket of the person sitting down. Less sinister possibilities include trying to impress the person who took his seat - trying to improve his reputation, his social standing, as it were. Or maybe, just maybe, he intended for another passenger to sit comfortably, to increase the happiness of a stranger, with no ulterior motives.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Social Behavior*