A cross-cultural study of factors influencing helping behaviour
The burgeoning research into altruism and helping behaviour has examined the effect of many variables that enhance or inhibit helpfulness, but little attention has been given to the influence of culture. In the present research, data on various aspects of helping behaviour were collected in both the UK and the Sudan so that the importance of cultural influences could be investigated. In addition this research also tested the validity of current models of helping. In a repertory grid study, urgency and cost emerged as the main constructs people in the two countries use to distinguish between various helpful situations. A laboratory experiment designed to test existing models of intervention behaviour found significant main effects of country, group, size, cost and urgency; and a group size/urgency interaction. Subjects in the Sudan intervened faster than subjects in the UK; lone subjects intervened faster than subjects in small and large groups; subjects in low cost intervened faster than subjects in high cost conditions; and subjects in high urgency intervened faster than subjects in low urgency conditions. Group size effect was stronger in low than in high urgency conditions. Two field studies further investigated the effect of urgency and cost in urban-nonurban context. Significant main effects of urgency and cost were found in cities but not in towns; and people in cities were less helpful than people in towns. A questionnaire survey found that in both countries there were significant urban-nonurban differences in the incidence of reported social contacts and exchange of helpful acts between acquaintances, neighbours and strangers. However, there were no urban-nonurban differences between relatives and close friends. Finally, attitudes to altruism and helpfulness did not differ between the two countries or between urban and nonurban residents. The results highlight the need to incorporate urgency and cultural variables in theoretical models of helping behaviour.