João Barreiros, a PhD candidate in the Doctoral program in Psychology, will defend his thesis titled "Prosocial selectivity: How behavioral information of a potential beneficiary influences decision making". The public defense is scheduled for December 20 at 10:00 at the Iscte-IUL B203 Auditorium, and online via Zoom.
The current research examined whether young adults were less likely to help a needy target who behaved aggressively toward a third person in past, and the possible motives underlying that decision. Not helping a needy person who behaved aggressively in the past may be a form of punishment, since it may aggravate that person’s need. Punishment can be administered with: a) a just deserts motive, aimed to restore justice, without the goal of changing future behavior; b) an incapacitation motive, i.e. to prevent or reduce future harms; c) a deterrence motive, i.e. to change the costs and benefits of a possible harm so it becomes unattractive. We hypothesized that participants in conditions priming a just deserts, incapacitation, and deterrence motives would volunteer less time than those in both a no-aggression condition and a punishment motives control condition. In one pretest and three experimental studies participants were asked to listen to and evaluate a bogus radio program in which a needy target is interviewed. In the aggression conditions the target reported an aggression committed to a colleague with information priming each punishment motive. Participants were then asked to volunteer time to help the target. Results of studies suggested that participants withheld help with a deterrence motive, whereas no evidence was found that confirmed the remaining hypotheses.
This research shows that prosocial behavior can be withheld – when the beneficiary acted aggressively toward another person in the past – in the form of punishment with a concern for others.