Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior is behavior that deliberately benefits another, rather than helping another person by accident or proxy.

What is Prosocial Behavior?
Prososical behavior is any helping behavior designed to benefit another. The term prosocial is commonly used in the scientific literature, but in colloquial language, prosocial behavior is often referred to as compassionate, empathetic, or ethical behavior. The term is also used in animal science literature to refer to apparently compassionate behavior by animals.

Examples of prosocial behavior might include:

  • A person donating money to charity, even though he/she receives no tangible benefit from doing so
  • Stopping to help a stranded motorist
  • A monkey grooming another monkey
  • A dog playing more gently with puppies than he/she does with adult dogs

Origins of Prosocial Behavior
Humans are not the only animals to demonstrate prosocial behavior, indicating that altruistic behavior has an earlier evolutionary origin and may help a species or individual survive. Some scientists have theorized that animals–including people–are more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior to those to whom they are closely related, such as children and cousins, as these people can carry on the person’s genetic lineage. Other scientists emphasize the role of reciprocal altruism, which occurs when someone behaves in a prosocial way in the hope that they will later be rewarded. A monkey who grooms a hurt companion might do so knowing that his or her companion will be more likely to return the favor if he/she is ever hurt. However, there are numerous reports of apparently unselfish behavior in the animal kingdom, wherein an animal helps an unrelated animal who cannot return the favor.

Parents often model prosocial behavior to their children, and much of early development is focused on helping children develop the ethical and social attitudes appropriate to their cultures. While all cultures establish rules about appropriate treatment of others, what constitutes prosocial behavior in one culture might not in another. In the United States, for example, people are generally expected to shake hands and make eye contact with new acquaintances, while in other areas of the world this behavior might be perceived as aggressive.


  1. Prinz, J. J. (2007). The emotional construction of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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