When Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior
Abstract (Via Sagepub)
Feelings of elevation, elicited by witnessing another person perform a good deed, have been hypothesized to motivate a desire
to help others. However, despite growing interest in the determinants of prosocial behavior, there is only limited evidence that elevation leads to increases in altruistic behavior. In two experiments, we tested the relationship between elevation and helping behavior. Prior to measuring helping behavior, we measured elevation among participants in an elevation-inducing condition and control conditions in order to determine whether witnessing altruistic behavior elicited elevation. In Experiment 1, participants experiencing elevation were more likely to volunteer for a subsequent unpaid study than were participants in a neutral state. In Experiment 2, participants experiencing elevation spent approximately twice as long helping the experimenter with a tedious task as participants experiencing mirth or a neutral emotional state. Further, feelings of elevation, but not feelings of amusement or happiness, predicted the amount of helping. Together, these results provide evidence that witnessing another person’s altruistic behavior elicits elevation, a discrete emotion that, in turn, leads to tangible increases in altruism.
Findings (Via Sagepub)
These two experiments provided convincing evidence that elevation, elicited by learning of another person’s good deeds, leads to increased altruistic behavior among members of a British university community. Our results indicate that, both subjectively and with regard to objective consequences, elevation is a discrete state, distinct from mere positive mood. Our findings cannot be explained as due to simple modeling or imitation: Participants who experienced elevation engaged in helping behaviors (volunteering for an unpaid study or completing a math questionnaire) that bore no similarity whatsoever to the behaviors presented in the elevation-eliciting stimulus (mentoring underprivileged youths). Thus, elevation inspired helping in spirit, not in kind. For methodological reasons, we confined our investigation to female participants. However, given that men also behave prosocially in many contexts, we expect that they share the same underlying motivational systems, including elevation. That said, given that previous work (Silvers & Haidt, 2008) points to a possible role for oxytocin in elevation, there may be sex differences in the magnitude of this emotion’s influence on behavior.