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Intelligence Testing

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A Study of Pro-social Behaviour: Altruism

Phon Chin Ming Edmond

Singapore Institute of Management University

In part fulfillment of DSZ1021 course requirements

Tutor: Ms Shahiraa

Date of Submission: 11 October 2006


The term altruism is an ideological concept. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia defines it as the "ethical theory that regards the good of others as the end of moral action" (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 2006). It refers to pro-social behaviour such as giving to people who are poor or helping your neighbour buy groceries. The definition of the term, however, poses for us problems in practicality. Philosophers and researchers are divided in the definition of the term itself. Is pure altruism defined simply by acts of seemingly altruistic behaviour or by intent? Is it possible for people humanely speaking to behave altruistically purely for the sake of others? Or are they doing so because of other motivations? Does helping your neighbour buy groceries for the sake of improving your relationship with him count as pure altruistic behaviour?

Various other researchers have used different perspectives to explain altruistic behaviour. One side of the coin asserts the possibility of pure altruism while the others reject it. Typically, researchers have based their research on the motivations behind altruistic behaviour as a standard of measure.

Batson (1997) supported the hypothesis of empathy-altruism in support of the possibility of pure altruism. The empathy-altruism hypothesis defines pure altruistic action as empathetic concern for another which is brought about by feelings of "compassion tenderness, sotfheartedness, and sympathy" (cited in Cialdina et al, 1997, p 481).

Cialdini (1997) and his colleagues however questioned the validity of the empathy-altruism hypothesis. They argued that empathy-altruism occurs only when the person providing help sees a part of him or herself in the person he or she is helping. Therefore, through perspective taking, the person providing help may see helping the other person as promoting a sense of oneness to oneself, which denounces the possibility of empathy-altruism hypothesis as a definition of pure altruism (Cialdini et al, 1997).

On a broader psychological perspective, motivations induced by a sense of oneness with self as suggest by Cialdini, fit into the category of Maslow's hierarchy of needs in the self-actualisation category. Coon (2006) states the need for wholeness (unity), justice (fairness), goodness (benevolence) and meaningfulness (values) as meta-needs in the self-actualisation category. The need for oneness can be seen as the need for wholeness (unity) of oneself.

One aspect of altruistic behaviour that this paper will be looking at is volunteering. Volunteering is often seen as one form of altruistic behaviour. In Singapore, the government has been proactively engaging the young in pro-social behaviour with implementation of compulsory programmes such as community involvement programme (CIP) for secondary school students. University entry requirements also take into account voluntary work that is undertaken by applicants. The Singapore Management University also mandates its students to fulfil a minimum of 80 hours of CIP.

With institutions and social environment encouraging volunteering that reaps benefits for self other than the beneficiaries itself, there is an underlying suspicion that Singaporean volunteers are not only motivated to help others for the beneficiaries' sake, but also gain satisfaction from volunteering due to self-interest.

This paper theorises that pure altruism only exists as an ideological notion but exists in practicality in the form of pro-social behaviour which is motivated by both 'altruistic' and 'non-altruistic' motivations. Borrowing from terms used by Rokeach in 1973 (as cited in Batson, 1990), we are defining 'altruistic' motivation as motivation that is based on terminal values and 'non-altruistic' motivation as being based on instrumental values. Based on theories that support pro-social behaviour due to a sense of oneness and self-actualisation theories, this paper hypothesises that volunteers tend to be motivated by instrumental values more than terminal values through examining motivation behind Singapore volunteers who serve in overseas community service expeditions.



The participants were 10 Secondary, Junior College, Polytechnic and undergraduate Singaporean student volunteers from REACH Family Service Centre who are participating or had participated in community service expeditions to overseas countries from the year 2005 to the year 2006. Sixty of them were aged 16 - 20 years, and 40% of them were in the age group of 20 - 24 years. Nine of the respondents were female and 1 is male.

The respondents consented to doing the survey. They were informed of that the questionnaire was investigating on the topic of pro-social behaviour specifically in the area of volunteering for overseas expeditions in fulfilment of a university assignment. Respondents were assured of confidentiality. They were also informed that the compiled results will be used in the assignment which will be assessed by the researcher's university tutor and university staff. A copy of the assignment is made available upon their request should they be interested the findings of the assignment.


The method for the research was in the form of a survey. The data was collected from a convenience sample using a questionnaire (see Appendix A). The nature of the work of the expeditions the volunteers engaged in was examined and a questionnaire was designed according to those areas.

The questionnaire was designed to measure whether volunteer motivations were instrumental or terminal. It contained 10 statements in total and consists of 2 types of statements - Type I and Type II. Each type consists of 5 statements. The 10 statements are scrambled up in sequence.

Type I statements are designed to indicate instrumental value motivations. They contain statements that focus on self gain and are phrased in an active



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