Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Urban Green Cover as a Predictor of Altruism: A Study of Dehradun and Haridwar

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Urban Green Cover as a Predictor of Altruism: A Study of Dehradun and Haridwar

Article excerpt

Urban 'angst', incivility, crime, lack of empathy and reduced social support counterbalance the economic benefits of living in cities. The long-term psychological and social effects of these conditions are well-known. One notable consequence of living in cities is a decrease in helping behavior, which is closely linked to the trait of altruism where help is given without expectation of return.

As cities become increasingly complex, altruism is threatened by rising levels of materialism and competition for scarce resources. At the same time, it is more necessary than ever to foster this trait amongst city-dwellers, for protecting individual integrity, identity and mental health from disorganization in the new urban order. The phenomenon of urbanization is irreversible. However, its negative consequences can be moderated by enhancing the livability of cities. Urban green cover plays a vital role in achieving this goal.


Helping or pro-social behavior is generally defined as any behavior carried out with the intention of benefiting another person. However, the helper either consciously or unconsciously engages in the prosocial behavior because s/he will be rewarded. The key point that differentiates helping from altruism is that helping may involve a selfish motivation. There is no such motive present in altruism.

Altruism is helping behavior (without expectation of extrinsic rewards and sometimes involving personal risk or sacrifice) that benefits individuals or society. "Altruism is a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another's welfare" (Batson, 1991).

Conditionsfostering Altruism

The proposal that empathie concern produces altruistic motivation has been called the empathy-altruism hypothesis (Batson, 1991). Empathy is a term used for the processes employed by an individual to understand the subjective experience of others. Empathie concern has been found to direct attention to the long-term welfare of those in need, producing more sensitive care (Sibicky, Schroeder, & Dovidio, 1995). Empathy-induced altruism has also been found to improve attitudes toward stigmatized groups, including racial minorities, people with AIDS, the homeless, even convicted murderers and drug dealers.

Nelson and Dynes (1976) explored the impact of religious devotion and attendance at religious services on a variety of helping behaviors. The researchers found that devotionalism, church attendance and level of religious commitment were positively correlated with levels of helping behavior, both in routine and emergency situations.

Social skills training that improves people's empathising abilities (Stepien & Baemstein, 2006) also tends to improve their ability to be altruistic. Altruism can be fostered, especially among the young (Sutton et al., 2006). Essentially, nurturing people is the best way of nurturing their altruism (Knafo & Plomin, 2006). Conversely, people who are not nurtured tend to become both physically and emotionally insensitive to the needs of others (DeWall & Baumeister, 2006).

Physical conditions of the environment effect on altruism

Defensible space (DS) theory suggests that the architectural features and physical layout of residential buildings substantially influence patterns of informal contact among neighbors and informal surveillance. Contact among neighbors and informal surveillance are, in turn, known to be linked to strength of community and levels of crime (Taylor, 1988). Although defensible space theory says very little about vegetation per se, the theory clearly has implications for natural as well as built features of residential outdoor spaces.

Green spaces in cities may strengthen community interaction, thereby reinforcing social ties which lead to higher incidence of helping behaviour. In addition, the restorative benefits of natural vegetation (e.g. Frerichs, 2004) would reduce attention fatigue. Residents would be able to more quickly perceive incidences requiring help and make more accurate appraisals of the urgency of the situation. …

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