Stewart J. Forsyth
Summary.—Three variables distinguished those altruistic motorists who stopped for a male hitch-hiker from those non-altruistic motorists who did not. All motorists who stopped for the hitch-hiker were male, motorists who passed by the hitch-hiker tended to have no experience of hitch-hiking, and motorists who reported that they lacked experience of hitch-hikers or hitchhiking tended to express negative affect toward hitch-hikers. The result that previous experience of hitch-hiking was positively correlated with the response of picking up hitch-hikers was considered in terms of the indirect or generalized reciprocation demonstrated by motorists making this response and also in terms of the learning demonstrated by these motorists after their exposure to a model of appropriate behavior.
The study of altruism has significance for the encouragement of selflessness in an egoistic world (Campbell, 1975; Weiner, 1977), and as a theoretical perplexity for behavioral and evolutionary theory (Campbell, 1975). Altruistic behavior can be defined
as behavior that benefits another organism, not closely related, while being apparently detrimental to the organism performing the behavior, benefit or detriment being defined in terms of contribution to inclusive fitness (Trivers, 1971; p. 35).
Some sufficient prerequisites of altruistic behavior are that the potential recipient demonstrates appropriate dependency (Krebs, 1970), that the potential altruist experiences such affect as is an appropriate correlate of his altruistic behavior (e.g., Aronfreed & Paskal, 1968; Rawlings, 1968), or that the potential altruist has observed other individuals behaving in an appropriately altruistic fashion (Latane, 1967; Latane & Rodin, 1969). Some apparent altruism could be the indirect reciprocation of others previous selflessness. Such extended, or generalized, reciprocity has been demonstrated in laboratory studies (Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964; Goranson &. Berkowitz, 1966; Greenglass, 1969).
In a naturalistic setting the present study tested whether subjects’ altruism, as motorists stopping for a hitch-hiker, could be predicted in terms of generalized reciprocity, that is, whether altruistic motorists had previously hitchhiked.
Two hundred sixty-five motorists, 27 of whom gave rides to a male hitchhiker and 238 of whom passed him by, were subjects.
Hitch-hiker and His Equipment
The bearded and short-haired male hitch-hiker was dressed in shirt, shorts, sandals, and carried a back-pack and notebook.
The hitch-hiker hiked only from positions conforming to two criteria. First, while in a position oncoming motorists were able to recognize him as a hitch-hiker and able to stop nearby without endangering their vehicles. Second, that from these positions the experimenter-hiker could see oncoming motorists, judge the space available within their vehicles, and record the platenumbers of those vehicles which could have transported him.
While travelling with those motorists who stopped and offered him a ride, the experimenter asked them about their previous hitch-hiking experience but did not inform them that they were participating in a study. Three months after this a questionnaire purporting to be from an organization entitled the Road Transport Study Group was addressed to all the motorists, including those who had stopped for him, whom the experimenter had enumerated (addresses were provided by the Motor Registration Centre of the Post Office).
This questionnaire was introduced to the motorists as being an attempt to assess “. . . aspects of and attitudes to hitch-hiking.” It was emphasized that all information supplied was anonymous and confidential. The only identifying mark on the questionnaire was one to indicate whether the respondent had passed by or had picked up the researcher during the experimental period.
Of the 238 questionnaires distributed to those motorists who passed the researcher by, 83 (35%) were completed and returned. The questionnaire return rate from those motorists who had stopped for the researcher was 6 of 22 (22%). This low absolute number of returns from the ‘altruistic’ motorists precluded the comparison on many of the variables measured by the questionnaire of this sample with that of the ‘non-altruistic’ motorists who passed the researcher by.
Self-report of Picking Up Hitch-hikers
Of the motorist sample who passed by the researcher and returned questionnaires 47 (57%) claimed that they had picked up hitch-hikers in their history of driving. All of the six motorists who had picked up the researcher and returned their questionnaires indicated that they had previously picked up a hitch-hiker.
Sex of Motorists
All of the 27 motorists who picked up the researcher were male, while 19 (22%) of the motorists who passed by and returned questionnaires were female. The tendency for ‘altruistic’ motorists to be male is significant according to the chi-square test (χ² = 6.83, df = 1, p < .005, 1-tailed).
As a considerable proportion of those motorists who passed by the researcher reported that they had picked up hitch-hikers, three groups of motorists may be distinguished: altruistic motorists who stopped for the researcher (Ma); motorists who reported that they were altruistic, although they did not stop for the researcher (Mra) ; and non-altruistic motorists who did not stop and did not report ever having stopped for a hitch-hiker (Mn). The numbers of male and female motorists in each group are displayed in Table 1. It can be seen that male motorists are more likely than female motorists to stop for a male hitch-hiker or to report that they stop for hitch-hikers. The sex-difference demonstrated among these three groups of motorists is significant (χ² = 19.87, df = 2, p < .0005, 1-tailed). Male motorists alone stopped for a male hitch-hiker, male motorists were more likely to report that they picked up hitch-hikers than were female motorists. Because only a male experimenter took part in this study these results permit only the assertion that male hitch-hikers tend to be picked up by male motorists.
Sex of Motorists
Emotional Attributes of Motorists Attitude Toward Hitch-hiking
Questionnaire responses were rated for positive affect, negative affect, or neutrality toward the phenomena associated with hitch-hiking by two clinical psychologists. On their first sorting into these three categories of affect the judges reached 81% agreement. They then resorted the remaining questionnaires until they reached complete agreement, and all questionnaires were included in one of the three categories. It was predicted that motorists with less experience with picking up hitch-hikers or of hitch-hiking would express more negative affect toward hitch-hikers. Testing of both predictions was only possible within the sample of motorists who passed by the researcher and returned questionnaires.
Of those motorists who picked up the researcher and returned questionnaires three expressed positive affect and three neutrality toward hitch-hikers. Of those motorists who passed by and returned questionnaires 56 (67%) expressed negative affect, 18 (22%) expressed neutrality, and 9 or 11% positive affect. Because of the small numbers of those motorists expressing neutral or positive affect toward hitch-hiking phenomena these two categories were collapsed to one of acquiescence toward such phenomena.
Lack of hitch-hiking experience, as hypothesized, was associated with the expression of negative affect toward hitch-hikers (χ² = 5.77, df = 1, p < .01, 1-tailed). Motorists who reported that they did not pick up hitch-hikers also tended to respond negatively toward hitch-hikers (χ² = 30.35, df = 1, p < .0005, 1-tailed).
The concordance demonstrated between experience (of hitch-hiking or of stopping for hitch-hikers) and motorists evaluation of hitch-hikers is similar to the previously reported correspondence between self-reports of subjective state and altruistic actions (Aronfreed & Paskal, 1968; Rawlings, 1968). These results may be interpreted in terms of evidence that individuals attempt to demonstrate what they believe to be consistencies between verbal and other responses (Bern, 1967; Festinger, 1957).
Motorists’ Experience of Hitch-hiking
Respondents to the questionnaire detailed their own experiences and the experience of any member of their immediate family with hitch-hiking or hitch-hikers. All of the six motorists who picked up the researcher and returned questionnaires reported that a member of their family had had both types of experience. Of the motorists who passed by and returned questionnaires 39 (48%) reported that members of their families had had either or both of these experiences. No statistical comparison was attempted between these two samples. Within the sample of motorists who passed the researcher by, experience of hitch-hiking or exposure to hitch-hikers via the respondents’ families was not related to respondents’ reports of picking up hitch-hikers (χ² = 0.01, df = 1).
Of those motorists who picked up the researcher, 17 of the 27, or 63% had previous experience of hitch-hiking (according to their response to a question during the ride). Of those motorists who drove past the researcher and returned their questionnaires 30 (36%) had previously hitch-hiked. The hypothesis that the motorists who picked up the researcher were more likely to have previous experience of hitch-hiking was confirmed (χ² = 4.94, df = 1, p < .025, 1-tailed). Table 2 shows the hitch-hiking experience of the group of motorists who picked up the researcher (altruistic motorist: Ma), the group
Motorists’ Hitch-Hiking Experience
of motorists who reported picking up hitch-hikers but did not pick up the researcher (Mra), and the group of motorists who reported that they had never picked up a hitch-hiker and who did not pick up the researcher (Mn). The hypothesis that motorists who pick up hitch-hikers or who report that they pick up hitch-hikers are more likely to also report previous experiences of hitch-hiking was confirmed (χ² = 19.96, df = 2, p = .0005).
This result is an extension of previous work. Previous demonstrations of the role of experiencing recipience in promoting altruism have studied so-called altruistic responses of minimal cost (Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964; Goranson & Berkowitz, 1966; Greenglass, 1969). In that the present experiment involved study of a response which is a more valid analogue of altruism, the demonstration that the altruistic response was more likely after previous recipience of altruism represents a validation of the significance of generalized reciprocity in promoting altruism.
This validation is useful but limited. The observation that many altruistic motorists reported no relevant hitch-hiking experience suggests that there are other explanations of altruism than that of previous recipience: An alternative explanation of these motorists’ altruism is that they were enacting previously modelled altruistic responses.
Altruistic responses, as with other social responses, are prompted in the immediate environment and promoted in future similar environments by the observation of appropriate behavior (Bandura & Waiters, 1963; Latane, 1967; Latane & Rodin, 1969). This alternative explanation of motorists’ altruism subsumes the explanation in terms of generalized reciprocity. Individuals who receive the benefits of another’s altruism are simply a special sample of those for whom the altruistic response has been modelled. Hitch-hikers who are picked up receive a demonstration of appropriate behavior from a model who also provides them with their most appropriate reinforcement. This model, as an agent of reinforcement for the hitch-hiker, is likely to be a more potent agent of behavioral change on the part of the hitch-hiker than, for example, a passing motorist who receives no reinforcement (cf. Bandura & Huston, 1961; Mischel & Grusec, 1966; Mussen, 1961).
The altruistic response of picking up hitch-hikers can be described as an example of generalized reciprocity; however, until it can be shown otherwise this response could be better described as an example of a social response, the likelihood of which can be predicted in terms of the relative reinforcing power of models of such responses.
Aronfreed, J., & Paskal, V. Altruism, empathy and the conditioning of positive affect. In J. Aronfreed, Conduct and conscience. New York: Academic Press, 1968. Pp. 143-147.
Bandura, A., & Huston, A. C. Identification as a process of incidental learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1961, 63. 311-318.
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. Social learning and personality development. New York: Holt, Rineharr & Winston, 1963.
Bem, D. J. Self-perception: an alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena. Psychological Review, 1967, 74, 183-200.
Berkowitz, L., & Daniels, L. Affecting the salience of the social responsibility norm: effect of past help on the response to dependency relationships. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1964, 68, 275-281.
Campbell, D. T. On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psychology and moral tradition. American Psychologist, 1975, 30, 1103-1126.
Festinger, L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1957.
Goranson, R., & Berkowitz, L. Reciprocity and responsibility reactions to prior help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 3, 227-232.
Greenglass, E. R. Effects of prior help and hindrance on willingness to help another: reciprocity or socia1 responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1969, 11, 224-232.
Krebs, D. L. Altruism-an examination of the concept and a review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 1970, 73, 258-302.
Latane, B. The urge to help. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D. C., September, 1967.
Latane, B., & Rodin, J. A. A lady in distress: inhibiting effects of friends and strangers on bystander intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1969, 5, 189-202.
Mischel, W., & Grusec, J. Determinants of the rehearsal and transmission of neutral and aversive behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 3, 197-205.
Mussen, P. Some antecedents and consequences of masculine sex-typing in adolescent boys. Psychological Monographs, 1961, 75, No. 2 (Whole No. 506).
Rawlings, E. I. Witnessing harm to another: a reassessment of the role of guilt in altruistic behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1968, 10, 377-380.
Trivers, R. The evolution of reciprocal altruism. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 1971, 46, 35-57.
Weiner, H. An operant analysis of human altruistic responding. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 1977, 27, 5 15-528.
1 Originally presented as a paper to the 1976 conference of the New Zealand Psychological Society.
This article was originally published in ‘Psychological Reports,’ 1978, 43, 567-572. (Accepted July 28, 1978) The text was extracted and converted to html5 by Robert ‘prino’ Prins, who bears all responsibility for any errors that might still be present, please notify him if you find any.