In 1981, Jane Allyn Piliavin, John Dovidio, Samuel Gaertner, and Russell Clark introduced the "arousal cost-reward" model. This model assumes that witnessing the need or distress of another person is physiologically arousing. When one attributes the source of one's arousal to another person's distress, the arousal is sometimes experienced as emotionally unpleasant, and one becomes motivated to reduce it.
According to the arousal cost-reward model, a person will choose to engage in the arousal-decreasing response associated with the fewest net costs. Net costs are based on two types of rewards and costs associated with the helping situation: costs for not helping and rewards and costs for helping. Costs for not helping occur when no assistance is given and may include experiences such as feeling troubled because someone in need is continuing to suffer, or receiving criticism from others for being callous. Costs for helping are direct negative outcomes that the potential helper might experience after offering help, such as loss of time, embarrassment, or injury. Helping, however, can also be associated with positive outcomes such as praise, gratitude, and feelings of self-worth.
Piliavin and her colleagues suggest that both types of costs influence the decision to help. When net costs are low, as the costs for not helping increase, helping in the form of direct intervention becomes more likely. If net costs for helping are high, however, direct intervention is unlikely regardless of potential costs for not helping. In this latter situation, a person may give indirect assistance (for example, by calling someone else to help). Alternatively, the person may deny responsibility for helping, reinterpret the situation as one in which help is not needed, or try to leave the scene altogether.
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