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It was with the ‘Elaine’ experiment in 1981, that Batson and his research team wished to show the existence of altruistic behaviour, the participant was informed that for the purpose of the study, that Elaine, the second participant (but in reality, a confederate) would be receiving mild electric shocks in an adjacent room. It is after two shocks that Elaine shows signs of personal distress, informing the team leader of her fear of electricity, and this due to an incident during childhood, the team leader’s dilemma, is that the study may have to be cancelled… unless the participant was willing to trade places with Elaine in order to continue the experiment.

The results from the study showed that the participants who did not feel empathy towards Elaine and when the possibility to escape the study was difficult, approximately 65% agreed to take her place compared to 20% when the ability to leave was much easier, but amongst the participants who did have an empathic concern towards Elaine, regardless of the conditions of escape, a huge majority offered their assistance, and decided to take the shocks in her place (Smith and Mackie, 2007).

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In 1983, Batson provided evidence that there were a certain limitations to the empathy-altruism model, that under certain circumstances were met, that providing help stemming from feelings of empathy could be outweighed by the donor’s self-concern. The study showed that when the cost of helping was extremely high, in this case, the electric shocks would be quite violent, should the participant wish to continue, consequently, certain participants offered egoistic help and in doing so, shifted the concern from the other participant and focused it on themselves, showing that empathy does not always lead to altruism (Caldwell and Flanagan, 2001).

The fourth model of altruism that is going to be discussed, is that of ‘The Negative-State relief Model’, much like the empathy-altruism model, in the fact, an individual desires to offer their help or assistance often stems from negative arousal, therefore the urge to help those who are in need of assistance, and in doing so help to repress the donors personal distress and sooth their conscience (Smith and Mackie, 2007).

Unlike the ‘image-reparation’ hypothesis, the negative-state relief model primarily aim, is not that the donor looks good to their entourage due to the helping behaviour, but simply feels good, gains an inner warmth, due to the act that has been performed. Surrounding this model, it is commonly agreed that there is three main assumptions, each of which provide reasons for all altruistic behaviour, firstly, that negative states may find their origins from different sources, such as guilt or sadness, and each of which provides motivation to helping.

Secondly, that helping another individual was not the only stimulus, able to relieve the negative state, as the exposure to other elements may equally satisfy the donor’s need to help, for instance watching a comedy programme or listening to a comical story, are both ways in which the mood of the donor maybe altered, and therefore less likely to provide any help (Cialdini et al, 1973). The final assumption states, that the negative mood will only stimulate altruistic behaviour, if the donor has the firm belief, that their mood will be positively improved in doing as such, if this is not the case, help will be rarely promoted (Manucia et al, 1984).

The aim of this composition, was to evaluate and analyse the existence of a ‘selfless act’, and whether this act stems from the individual donor’s genuine desire to provide help that is solely beneficial to the receiver. Having examined the information collected and used for the elaboration of this essay, it would be true to say that in all honesty, there exist no such thing as a selfless act, because in reality, anything that is done, is done so because, either the donor is going to receive something in return or the donor feels pleasure in helping another.

Each of the four models assessed throughout this manuscript as shown this idea, from the kin selection perspective, help is provided in order to maintain the transmission of family genetics, and when looking at the evidence offered by the reciprocal altruism perspective, this is very clear, that each support is given, but only if there is some sort of personal reward in return. The feeling of inner warmth and positive sentiment that are felt when seen from the empathy-altruism hypothesis and providing help in the aim to reduce personal distress, as seen in the negative-state relief model, are just a few examples that outline the personal gain that are obtained through this so called ‘selfless act’.


Campbell, A. (1998). Altruism and Aggression. United Kingdom: The British Psychological Society. Cardwell, M. and Flanagan, C. (2004). Psychology A2: The Complete Companion. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes Limited. Durkin, K. (1995). Developmental Social Psychology: From infancy to old age. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Limited. Fletcher, G.J.O. and Clark, M.S. (2001). Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Interpersonal Processes. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Company.

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