Theoretical Explanations

These explanations can be applied to a wide range of helping situations— reactions to both physical and psychological distress, situations in which helping appears to be determined by a rational consideration of costs and rewards, and situations in which the help offered seemingly is irrational and very costly.

One study on which the arousal cost-reward model was based suggests how consideration of costs and rewards might affect the decision to offer direct physical assistance. In this study, a man feigned collapse on the floor of a New York subway a few minutes after boarding the train and remained there until help was given. In some cases, the man smelled of alcohol and carried an alcohol bottle wrapped in a paper bag, giving the impression that drunkenness had caused his fall. In other instances, the man carried a cane, suggesting that he had fallen because of a physical impairment. Although many people offered assistance in both conditions, more people helped the man with the cane than the man who appeared to be drunk.

The different amounts of assistance in the two conditions may result from differences in perceived net costs. Potential helpers may have expected greater costs when the man looked drunk than when he appeared to be disabled. Helping a drunk may require more effort and be more unpleasant than helping someone with a physical impairment. It may also be less intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding than helping someone with a physical impairment. Finally, costs for not helping may be lower in the case of the drunk than for the man with the cane. The drunk may be perceived as "only drunk" and therefore not really needy. Thus, the finding that more people helped the man with the cane is consistent with the hypothesis that helping increases as the net costs associated with the helping response decrease.

Although considerations of costs and rewards are important, it would be unrealistic to think that helping only occurs when net costs are low. People may engage in very costly helping behaviors when physiological arousal is especially high, such as in clear, unambiguous emergencies. The actions of an unknown passenger aboard an airplane that crashed into a frozen river illustrate this point. As a helicopter attempted to pull people out of the water to safety, this passenger repeatedly handed the lowered life ring to other, more seriously injured passengers, even though these acts of heroism eventually cost him his life.

Much research on helpfulness has asked, When do people help? It is also important, however, to look at what type of help is given and how the person in need is expected to react to offers of assistance. The Brickman model, involving attributions of responsibility for the problem and its solution, does this. It also looks at more everyday forms of helping. According to Brick-man, if one attributes responsibility for both the problem and its solution to the person in need, one is applying the moral model of helping. With this orientation, one may have the tendency to view the person in need as lazy and undeserving of help. In the subway example, people may not have helped the fallen drunk because they made such attributions. Although people who apply the moral model may not give direct assistance, they may sometimes support and encourage the person's own effort to overcome the problem.

If one sees people as responsible for their problem but not for its solution, then one is applying the enlightenment model. Criminals are held responsible for violating the law but are jailed because they are judged incapable of reforming themselves, and jail is believed to be rehabilitating as well as punishing. Discipline from those in authority is seen as the appropriate helping response, and submission to it is expected from the person receiving the "assistance."

The medical model applies when the person is seen as responsible for neither the problem nor its solution. This orientation is often taken toward the ill. Such situations call for an expert whose recommendations are to be accepted and fulfilled.

In the final combination of attributions of responsibility for a problem and its solution, the compensatory model, the person is not held responsible for having caused the problem. The problem may be judged to be caused by factors beyond the person's control, such as when an earthquake occurs. In this model, however, the person is held responsible for solving the problem. Helpers may provide useful resources but are not expected to take the initiative for a solution. In the case of an earthquake, the government may offer low-interest loans for rebuilding, but victims must decide whether to apply for one and rebuild their homes.

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