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Studies have shown that people help each other for a variety of reasons. There are three theories that many of these reasons can be categorized within. Those theories are Social Exchange, Social Norms, and Evolutionary.
The Social Exchange theory contains the idea that humans help each other for the reward that they receive in exchange for the help given (Myers, 2019). These rewards can be internal or external. Often people aren’t consciously aware of what is motivating them to help others as it is a subconscious motivation. When people who are grieving will reach out and begin helping others, often they find that it is helping them to work through their own grief (Myers, 2019). There are also external rewards that come when someone helps others, and they receive something positive in return.
The Social Norms theory refers to the things that are ingrained within us that are socially expected and taught that we follow (Myers, 2019). We take care of people who have cared for us, or who may one day return a favor because we have helped them (Myers, 2019). There are also other social norms that influence which people receive help, such as the idea that women and children go first or making seats available for the elderly or pregnant out in public (Myers, 2019).
The Evolutionary theory relates that the reasons for helping each other are genetically influenced (Myers, 2019). This theory states that doing good for others is influenced biologically by who we are genetically related to in order to promote the survival and well-being of those in our group or family (Myers, 2019). The idea that natural selection determines our good deeds for each other is very evolutionary in thought.
I believe that Social Exchange is the strongest explanation, of the three theories, for people helping each other. The Bible says in Galatians 6:7-8 that we will reap the fruit of what we have sown (NIV, 1985/2001). The goes hand in hand with the social exchange explanation that people do good to each other because they are either expecting good to be returned to them or they are returning good that they have already received.
In my own life I received the benefits of Social Exchange from the reputation of helping & friendliness of my dad. I grew up in a very small town, we had one stop light, and my dad was one who was always reaching out to help someone or tell someone about Jesus. He was the guy who would pick up hitchhikers and make it his mission to download the whole, spirit-filled gospel to them before they exited the truck. There were many times when I received kindness from others because of the good deeds and the life-giving spirit of my dad. I would walk into gas stations and someone would recognize me and say, “Hey! Can I buy your gas for your car?” Or at the grocery store they would try to buy my groceries. He loved the person God placed in his path and the fruit of what he had sown was reaped by his family.
Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2019). Social Psychology (13nth ed.). McGraw Hill
https://prod.reader-ui.prod.mheducation.comNew International Version Study Bible. (2001). Zondervan. (Original publication 1985)
The theories that are shown to explain altruism are social exchange theory, social norms theory, and evolutionary theory. The social exchange theory is when we help others in hopes that one gets rewarded but it would have no type of cost. Social- responsibility norm theory states that society has an expectation for people to help each other when someone is in need. The evolutionary theory is for gene survival and helping is done with the intent of spreading the gene to maximize survival.
When thinking of my personal life, I would have to believe in social exchange theory more. The reason is that with the society that we live in day to day we expect something like good luck, good karma or even God’s blessing when it comes to helping other people in need. When it comes to helping rewards is something that motivates people, “rewards that motivate helping be external or internal” (Weichselbaum, 2010) One example has to do with donating plasma. I go twice a week and the plasma goes to a person in need but the actual reason I do it is to get paid and all I had to do is sit in a chair with a needle in me and then I earn from 50 to 100 dollars per visit. In that situation my reward would be the money, feeling like I helped someone, and good karma. The cost really wasn’t anything, blood and plasma are something that most people are blessed with. Proverbs 11:25 “Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” It helps us see that when we are people who help or are generous that God would see our efforts and give us a reward if it is done with good intentions.
Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2022). Social psychology. McGraw Hill Education.
Proverbs 11:25 NIV – – bible gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%2B11%3A25&version=NIV