The Coverage of Spontaneous and Planned Helping Behaviors in Introductory Social Psychology Textbooks: A Brief Report

Article excerpt

In the present study, we examined the amount of coverage of spontaneous helping behaviors versus planned helping behaviors in the pro-social behavior chapters of introductory social psychology textbooks. Spontaneous helping involves short term contact with a stranger with no expectation of future interaction, whereas non-spontaneous or planned helping involves time consuming behaviors and repeated interactions with the recipient (Benson et al., 1980; Pearce & Amato, 1980).

One reason it is important to examine this distinction is because some independent variables have been shown to impact spontaneous helping differently than planned helping (e.g. Conway, Ryder, Tweed, & Sokol, 2001; Pearce, & Amato, 1980). Consequently generalizations about variables that impact helping may need to be clarified in terms of the type of helping. Nonetheless, both forms of helping are vital for promoting human welfare. As Aronson, Wilson, and Akert (2008) acknowledge "... the world would be a better place if more people helped those in need." (p. 344).

We predicted that the preponderance of coverage would be on spontaneous rather than planned helping. This prediction is consistent with Benson et al.'s (1980) notation that the research base in social psychology favors spontaneous rather than non-spontaneous helping. Almost two decades later, Clary et al. (1998) also suggested that the form of pro-social behavior presented in most social psychology textbooks is spontaneous rather than planned helping. Despite these assertions, the researchers provided no empirical evidence to support them. It is important for teachers to have an understanding of the coverage of both forms of helping behavior in introductory social psychology textbooks, so they can plan lectures and supplemental materials according to their goals for students in their courses.


We selected the textbooks to review from a list of the 20 top-selling introductory social psychology textbooks provided by the Executive Editor of McGraw-Hill (M. Georgiev, personal communication Oct. 5, 2011). We selected the top six best selling introductory social psychology text books written by different authors (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2008; Baron, Branscombe, & Byrne, 2008; Baumeister & Bushman, 2011; Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2011; Kenrick, Neuberg, & Cialdini, 2010; Myers, 2010), and 2 randomly chosen texts from the list (Sanderson, 2010; Taylor, Peplau, & Sears, 2006) to review. The textbooks represented 5 different publishers, with the edition of the textbooks ranging from 1 to 12.

Two researchers examined each of the pro-social behavior chapters of each of the eight textbooks for the number of references that operationally defined planned or spontaneous helping behaviors by humans. To code the studies we used the definitions delineated by Benson et al. (1980) and the empirical findings of Pearce and Amato (1980). Thus, the studies of spontaneous helping involved short term contact with a stranger with no expectation of future interaction, whereas the studies of non-spontaneous helping involved time consuming behaviors and repeated interactions with the recipient(s). References to studies that did not include enough of an explanation of the study to determine whether or not the helping behavior was spontaneous or planned were not included in the analysis. Sometimes the authors used the word "helping" or "pro-social behavior" in general terms. Examples of spontaneous helping included: helping someone who is getting shocked, picking up a pen that someone dropped, and making change for a dollar. Examples of planned helping included: volunteering to help people with AIDS; helping Jewish people during the Holocaust; and corporate donations to charity. There was a 92% agreement between the two raters. Disagreements were discussed and resolved.


As predicted, the mean number of studies for spontaneous (s) helping, M = 40. …


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