The Effects of Mood and Sex on Helping Behavior in a Non-violent Situation
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
Juryea, B., Keates, R., Kazantzi, K., Martinez, J. (2002). The Effects of Mood and Sex on Helping Behavior in a Non-violent Situation. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Mood and Sex on Helping Behavior in a Non-violent Situation

Sponsored by: TOM TREADWELL (
This study examines the effects of mood on helping behavior(s). Our hypothesis suggests that when exposed to a sad stimulus, such as a sad movie, individuals will be less likely to help than when exposed to a neutral stimulus, such as a documentary. This study also investigates whether the sex of the helpee is a significant factor when helping. It is suggested that females exposed to a sad stimulus will be more likely to help females, and males will be more likely to help males. Further, when exposed to a neutral stimulus, females will help males and males will help females.

Newcomb, Rabow and Wolfinger (1999) defined helping behavior as a characteristic of care in a given situation. During these situations, five different perceptions could develop reflecting several reasons why people help. Empathy is a characteristic that allows an individual to offer help because they would want the same done for them in a similar situation. If an individual wants to contribute honorably to the world, help may be offered because it is the “right thing to do.” This moralistic view may persuade people to help because it is believed to be part of their social responsibility. Another influential factor is an individual’s internal locus of control, which is the belief that one can influence situational factors to maximize good outcomes and minimize bad ones. Finally, self-absorbed or competitive individuals are very egocentric and often refuse to help (Baron, Byrne & Johnson; 1998).The reasons for helping (or not helping) seem apparent, however it is not the reason behind the behavior that impedes implementation: it is the actual situation that demands the help. For example, Li (1997) identified four different helping situations. First, casual helping occurred when the helper and helpee had no prior relationship. This implies that the helper can donate help to the helpee without cost. Neither is obligated to the other, however in the case of moral and social obligation, factors such as personal helping (friends) and emotional helping (spouse or family) impose opposite obligations. The cost of not helping in these two situations could be detrimental to the entire relationship; it could suffer because of the amount or quality of help being offered. In emergency situations, the focus is not on relationships at all. The need is believed to be too high for the helpee, and the cost, not as important as adhering to the plea for help.Cialdini and Kenrick (1976) contended that negative moods lead just as much toward helping behaviors as positive moods, if not more so. This is because of the desire to relieve oneself from their negative mood. This is called the “Negative Relief State Hypothesis” (NRS). In order to test this, experimenters randomly selected one hundred children from a school. They participated in tasks of hearing and imagination and then received a reward of coupons turned in later for additional prizes. For the imagination task, half of the subjects were instructed to remember a sad experience, while the other half was instructed to imagine a book they had read. This manipulated the affect of participants involved in the sad experience task to a negative state, while other subjects were manipulated to a neutral affective state. Results indicated that negative mood states effected individuals differently according to age. Suppression of generosity was evident in younger individuals, while enhanced generosity was displayed in older individuals. This suggests that there is a direct relationship between negative mood and altruism.Isen’s 1970 study portrayed a different finding. She looked at individual’s affective state (mood) as induced by success or failure. Isen predicted that subjects who succeeded would experience a positive affect that would elicit a helpful, generous, and friendly response to others. This was tested using two alternatives of the same design. First, subjects were told they were to perform tasks designed to measure perceptual motor skills and creativity. To set affect, cohorts told subjects they performed either very well or poor. Next, the cohort left the room, leaving the option open for subjects to donate money to a fund (a jar had been placed nearby). Conditions for the second experimental group were different only in that instead of donating money, subjects had the opportunity to offer help to the experimenter who re-entered the room and dropped books on the floor. The results showed that subjects who were told they performed well, and thus in a good mood, contributed more money to charity and offered more help to a stranger than subjects told they performed poorly.Further research from Isen, Clark and Schwartz; (1976), found that subjects who were given a nominal gift prior to being asked for assistance, were more likely to offer help than subjects not given gifts. In a similar study with children and a gift of candy, Rosenhan, Underwood and Moore; (1974), found that mood influences the propensity to offer assistance. Alternatively, when in a negative mood, subjects helped less than when in a positive mood.Opposing result, like these, may have arisen because of the different situations involved. Allen, Dovidio, Matthews, Schroeder and Sibicky; (1988), carried out a study in which subjects were told to imagine a scenario, as described by the experimenter, and imagine how the character in the story felt about an unfortunate event (empathic concern, “imagine set”). Then the other group of subjects was told to concentrate on the information presented in the story and not to concern themselves with how the character felt (personal distress condition, “observe set”). Subjects given the “imagine set” instructions reported that they concentrated on the other persons feelings more so than did subjects given the “observe set” instructions. The "imagine" group also reported more empathic concern, which resulted in helping more often than the observer group. When presented with an easy escape, observers left the scene, while "imagine" group members stayed despite the easy escape. The role of the subjects, and their reaction to the situation, affected helping behavior. In other words, the subject’s placement in the study (observer or imagine group) introduced different scenarios in which one had to accommodate. The more complicated the task became, the more likely the subject was to flee.Gender research in the past has been both extensive and conclusive pertaining to helping behavior. Long, Mueller, Wyers, and Khong (1996) investigated the relationship between learned gender roles and helping behaviors as well as social expectancies related to gender. He discovered that women received more help than men, and females help more, however these results may be due to chance.In another study conducted by Fiala, Giuliano, Remlinger and Braithwaite (1999); the effects of gender roles and stereotypes on helping behavior were examined. They found that females were significantly more likely to help when men were in non-masculine situations than when women were in masculine situations. Men were more likely to help in masculine situations regardless of the gender of the person in need.The reasoning behind the opposing gender role conflict may be explained by Carol Gilligan. She suggests that women operate at a conventional (socially concerned) level of reasoning, while men remain at the pre-conventional level (looking out for themselves). This in no way demoralizes men, but puts them at a different level of mental processing (as cited in Jolley & Mitchell, 1996). It is not the role of men and women that is important in this instant, but their differences.An experiment directed by Newcomb, (1999) examined gender differences and drunk driving interventions. Their study was built upon Carol Gilligan’s theory of moral understanding that women conceptualize life through social relationships and men orient through moral standards or principles. The study consisted of a questionnaire, which was distributed to four UCLA undergraduate courses, which depicted personal involvement with drunk driving intervention. The data contained over twenty-two hours of talk. The interpretations suggested three differences between men and women. First, women were concerned more with bystanders being harmed than men. Men were more concerned with the drunk driver being harmed. Second, the different concerns among the sexes ultimately lead to different means of intervention. Women saw intervention as a social responsibility, while men saw intervention as a solution to a practical problem. Finally, the study suggested that women were more likely to feel responsible to intervene than men. As this study demonstrated support for Gilligan, that men and women do react differently in general situations, it also lead understanding into how people interpret random acts of kindness and has implications for helping behaviors.Random Acts of kindness, as defined in the Social Science Journal, is something one does for an unknown person hoping it will benefit that individual (Baskerville, Johnson, Monk-Turner, Slone, Standley, Stansbury, Williams & Young; 2000). The study conducted on random acts of kindness had a four-day duration in which 122 different people were given a flower (at random) in a public place. Findings showed that women reacted more favorably than men to random acts of kindness. This result may lead from women being more relational than men, or that women just like flowers more than men. Overall though, it appears women are more sociable than men, and do not mind helping strangers as much as do men.Overall, mood, sex and context all effect helping behavior. But who helps, when do they help, and under what conditions do they help? Our study suggests that individuals exposed to sad stimuli before help is required will be less likely to engage in helping behaviors than individuals exposed to neutral stimuli. Ultimately, females will be more likely to help males, and males more likely to help females, after they are exposed to neutral stimuli. In addition, males are less likely to help males, and females are more likely to help females, under the same conditions.


The pool of research participants will be drawn from the student population at West Chester University. Attention will be focused on those students enrolled in psychology classes on the introductory level. Subject recruitment will begin on the first day of the term. In this fashion, it is hoped to have one plausible explanation for attrition. For instance, if a student drops out of the study and drops the course for the term, their withdrawal from the experiment could have the same explanation as their withdrawal from the class. If the student does not drop the course after removing himself from the experiment, the explanation for attrition could be suggested as having to do with the study. With respect to where subjects will be found, the demographics of the selection pool have the possibility of becoming very diverse. It is predicted that a majority of the subjects will be between the ages of 18 and 23. However, there will undoubtedly be some participants who are not. One variable in the study is the sex of the participant. It is imperative that a balanced selection pool is sought. Considering the diversity of college campuses, especially those located within close proximity to large cities (as is West Chester University), there may be several important characteristics to account for. West Chester University requires that students taking introductory psychology classes complete two hours of research as a requirement for completion of the course. Students would be given credit toward their independent research requirement by participating in this study. This is the compensation agreement made between the experimenter(s) and the subjects. On the day the researcher(s) or cohort(s) present the option of participation to the enrolled students, other researchers/cohorts will wait for recruits in another room. There they will present the students with a consent form. The consent form will be required of any student who wishes to participate in the study. Demographic information will be collected in privacy when the recruit has been assured of anonymity and confidentiality, and once they are told that the information is requested for statistical purposes. The subject will be told when and where to report again, then dismissed.A minimum of 40 participants will be recruited for the study; half male, half female (initial separation). The subjects will then be randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the control group. There will be two groups of 20 subjects. The experiment will require several researchers and even more cohorts. It will be necessary to have responsible students who are committed to the experiment and who understand the importance of the scientific method. All permissions and approvals required will have been received in writing prior to the beginning of the experiment. Formal documentation pertaining to the study will be kept in reliable storage media and will be appropriately secured to maintain confidentiality for participants. The treatment of subjects will be in accordance with the ethical standards of the APA.

The student’s participation in the study is contingent on signing a standard informed-consent form, which is presented when the student arrives to sign up. The Multiple Adjective Affective Checklist (Lubin & Zuckerman, 1999), a mood inventory survey, will be administered to subjects at the beginning and end of the movie. The Experimental group will be shown the last 45 minutes of the movie “Old Yeller” (Stevenson, 1957). The Control group will be shown the 45-minute educational program, “Volcano’s: Blazing Craters” (ASIN: 6304375484). A classroom is needed to sign students up as well as an auditorium to show the movie and conduct data collection. The audio-visual equipment required will be provided by West Chester University.

In this proposed study a Between Subjects Design will be used to examine the interaction between internal mood and sex on external helping behavior(s). The operational definition in the present study views helping behavior as a characteristic of care in a given situation.The independent variables will be mood and sex, and the dependent variable will be helping behavior. The study will be experimental in nature, intergrating both survey style inventories and naturalistic observation. The dependent variable will be measured according to which of the participants engaged in the experiment will display helping behavior. Given the desire to investigate these behaviors in a natural setting, some deception will be necessary.

There has been considerable research on the subject of helping behavior and whether sex has some statistically significant influence on whether a person will help a stranger in a non-violent situation. There have also been some concerns as to what influence mood may play in helping behavior. In an effort to test our hypothesis that women experiencing a negative affective state will offer assistance more often than men under the same circumstances, we designed a study that we believe would provide some answers to the extent that sex and mood influence helping behavior. Our study consists of two groups of 20 participants, each group consisting of ten males and ten females. One group will be shown a movie that would elicit a neutral feeling and the other group will be shown a movie that will elicit a negative feeling. When departing from the movie, a female confederate who states that she has sprained her ankle and can not walk confronts participants in one of the groups. She requests that a participant walk to a phone 50 feet away to call her friend for a ride. The cohort instructed the subject to ask the friend how long it would take and report back. In the second group, a male confederate followed the same procedure. We theorize this to be true because of the Negative Relief State Hypothesis, in which Cialdini states that people who are experiencing negative emotions are motivated to alleviate the aversive mood state in any way possible (Allen, 1988). Although Cialdini`s study indicates that there is a direct relationship between negative mood and altruism only among socially mature adults for whom altruism is rewarding. A problem with this study could be explained by innate sex differences and helping behavior. Women may possess a stronger nurturing tendency than men and will thereby be more inclined to offer assistance when it is needed. Other problems may occur attempting to gather data qualified to claim to be a display of helping behavior. Subjective interpretations of context could prove unreliable and/or invalid. The subject pool will be a difficult one from which to draw generalizations. Students who wish to participate in a research study do not share that same enthusiasm or curiosity with their peers enrolled in the same course that do not wish to participate. The students who enrolled in an introductory level psychology course at West Chester University do not adequately represent the entire student population. Since we cannot attempt to make a sweeping generalization with the results of our study, we will attempt to give support to something we think we already know to be true. Future researchers may wish to closely investigate innate sex differences in displays of helping behavior. Another topic to explore is whether men will offer more help as the situations become increasingly more severe. Are men more likely to offer help when the risk of personal injury increases? As the risk of personal injury increases, are women less likely to offer physical intervention yet more likely to offer indirect assistance (i.e. calling the police)?

ReferencesAllen, J.A., Dovidio, J.F., Matthews, L.L., Schroeder, D.A., & Sibicky, M.E. (1988). Empathic concern and helping behavior: Egoism or altruism? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 333-353. Baskerville, K., Johnson, K., Monk-Turner, E., Slone, Q., Standley, H., Stansbury, S., Williams, M., & Young, J. (2000). Reactions to random acts of kindness. Social Science Journal, 37(2), 293-300.Baron, R.A., Byrne, D., & Johnson, B.T. (1998). Exploring Social Psychology, Fourth Edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Cialdini, R.B., Kenrick, D.T. (1976). Altruism as hedonism: A social development perspective on the relationship of negative mood state and helping. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 34, 907-914.Fiala, S.E., Giuliano, T.A., Remlinger, N.M., Braithwaite, L.C. (1999). Lending a helping hand: The effects of gender stereotypes and gender on likelihood of helping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 2164-2176.Jolley, J.M., & Mitchell, M.L. (1996). Lifespan Development. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Isen, A.M. (1970). Success, failure, attention, and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 15, 294-301.Isen, A., Clark, M., Schwartz, M. (1976). Duration of the effect of good mood on helping: “Footprints in the sand of time.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 34, 385-393.Li, F. (1997). Helping behaviors and the perception of helping intentions among Chinese students. Journal of Social Psychology, 137 (4), 496-502.Long, D.A., Mueller, J.C., Wyers, R., Khong, V., (1996). Effects of gender and dress on helping behavior. Psychological Reports, 78, 987-994.Lubin, B., & Zuckerman, M. (1999). The Multiple Affect Adjective Check List - Revised. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.Newcomb, M., Rabow, J., & Wolfinger, N. (1999). The different voices of helping:Gender differences in recounting dilemmas. Gender Issues, 17(3), 70-86.Rosenhan, D., Underwood, B. & Moore, B. (1974). Affect moderates self-gratification and altruism. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 30, 4,546-4,552.

Consent Form

Research: Effects on mood through movie viewing

Investigators: Kyriaki Kazantzi, Marci Krapf, John Martinez, Shawna Stover, Richard Moore, Bambi Juryea and Bob Keates.

The purpose of this study is to study the effects that viewing a sad or neutral movie has on mood. If you decide to participate, you will be asked to complete the Multiple Affect Adjective Check List – Revised before and after viewing a film in the research laboratory. This task will take no more than three (3) hours to complete. All of your responses to the questions will remain confidential and anonymous. This study has been approved by the West Chester & Clarion University Human Subjects Committees.

It is not expected that you will experience any discomfort or stress as a result of participating in this study. If at anytime you wish to discontinue your participation for any reason, you are free to leave. No risks will be associated with your discontinuation. Potential benefits from participating in this study are awareness of mood state after viewing a sad film and the effects on your behavior. These benefits can include, but cannot be limited to, contribution to knowledge about the research process in psychology.

If you have any questions regarding this study, please feel free to contact:

Thomas Treadwell Donna AshcraftWest Chester University Clarion University of PennsylvaniaWest Chester, Pa. Clarion, Phone: (814) 226-1860Phone(610) 436-2723 If you wish to participate in this study, please sign your name on the signature line below. Your signature indicates that you have read the above and agree to participate in this study.

___________________________________________________________________________Signature of Participant Date

___________________________________________________________________________Signature of Investigator (Faculty Advisor) Date

Debriefing Statement

The study you participated in was a study of the effects of mood and sex on a person’s willingness to help a stranger in a non-violent situation. The reasons for deception in this study are prevention of response bias and unnatural behavior as a participant in an observed experiment (Hawthorne effect). By not explaining why the movie was shown in relation to the behaviors exhibited after leaving the testing site and being approached by research confederates, the investigators were able to see what reactions and behaviors were manifested after viewing either a sad or neutral movie. This deception was not an attempt to maneuver differential behaviors from the participants, but simply a way of displaying behaviors as they would occur in a natural setting.

It is not expected that any risks or discomfort would result from this deception of information. If, for any reason, you experience discomfort due to your participation, contact:

Thomas Treadwell, Ed.D. Donna Ashcraft, Ph.D.West Chester University Clarion University of PennsylvaniaWest Chester, Pa. OR Clarion, Phone: (814) 226-1860Phone(610) 436-2723

Thank you for your participation.

Submitted 1/4/2002 2:39:27 PM
Last Edited 1/4/2002 3:19:56 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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