To what degree do situational influences explain spontaneous helping behaviour? A meta-analysis

G. Tyler Lefevor, Blaine Fowers, Soyeon Ahn, Samantha F. Lang, Laura M. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Prosocial behaviour is an interdisciplinary topic, involving psychologists, philosophers, and educators. Based on experimental helping research, some moral philosophers have claimed that helping behaviour is entirely situationally determined. The dominance of situational factor experimentation gives the appearance that situational factors alone can explain helping behaviour. This meta-analysis investigated situational explanations of helping behaviour with 286 effects and 46,705 participants from experimental studies with non-manipulation control groups, and observed unilateral adult behavioural helping. Results indicated expected group differences in helping behaviour frequency among help encouraging or help discouraging experimental conditions and no-manipulation control conditions. Helping behaviour was also frequent in help discouraging and control conditions and far from universal in help encouraging conditions. Because helping occurred in control groups, situational factors cannot explain all observed helping. Because helping was not universal in help encouraging conditions, it raises the question of individual differences in responsiveness to helping cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Review of Social Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - Aug 25 2017


  • Helping
  • meta-analysis
  • person-situation interaction
  • situationism
  • trait

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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