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date: 27 May 2020

(p. xxi) Preface

(p. xxi) Preface

We see prosocial behavior as one of the central topics in social psychology. Indeed, if the contributions from other major subareas of psychology (and sociology, biology, economics, and political science) are any indication of the importance of the study of prosocial behavior, it may also be considered a central topic in the field of psychology as a whole. The prosocial umbrella is broad and far reaching. To capture the breadth of this multifaceted domain, we collected contributions for this volume from an international slate of scholars from various backgrounds who provided outstanding essays and reviews of their areas of expertise. The chapters not only bring us up to date on the latest findings in the field but also shed some light on the future directions that deserve to be pursued by the next generation of researchers. We are most appreciative of what we have received and what we can now in turn share with others—our prosocial act! We and the readers owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our contributors for taking their time and for sharing their wisdom with us all.

We organized the chapters in this Handbook using a multilevel scheme first proposed by Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, and Schroeder (2005). This scheme structured the diverse findings and processes of prosocial behavior into three levels, namely the micro-level, the meso-level, and the macro-level. The assumption is that phenomena can be explained horizontally, in terms of variables within the same level, or vertically, in terms of variables across different levels. Overt prosocial behavior, the traditional focal interest of social psychology, can be explained horizontally in terms of situational factors, which is another meso-level variable. Alternatively, overt prosocial behavior could be explained vertically in terms of the activation of specific brain mechanisms, as measured at the subperson level by neuroimaging techniques. Here the explanation involves the coordination of two levels—the meso-level and micro-level, respectively. Similarly, differences in prosocial behavior could be explained in terms of larger forces, such as the evolution of group norms. In this case, the explanation involves the coordination of the meso-level and macro-level. In the end, this scheme assumes that the three levels will provide mutually supportive, coherent, and comprehensive explanations for prosocial behavior.

Within this superordinate scheme, the chapters of this Handbook represent the broad spectrum of the prosocial field, covering topics ranging from the micro-level of evolutionary and comparative psychological factors to macro-level applications of reducing intergroup conflicts and ethnic genocide. Between these extremes of the extant prosocial paradigm, the contributors offer their perspectives on personality and developmental processes that may predispose individuals to empathize with and respond to the needs of others, individual differences that seem to interact with situational demands to promote helping, and the underlying motivations of those helping others. They explain volunteerism, intragroup cooperation, and intergroup cooperation to move the level analysis from the individual-level to group-level phenomena. They extend the consideration of this topic to include encouraging proenvironmental actions, increasing participation in medical clinical trials, and promoting world peace. The ways that gender, interpersonal relationships, race, and religion might affect decisions to give aid and support to others are also addressed. We conclude this Handbook by offering a philosophy of science view that we hope will encourage (p. xxii) researchers and readers to take an even broader consideration of the field in a search for a prosocial consilience. We think there is something for everyone.

We wish to acknowledge a number of individuals behind the scenes who have made our work on this Handbook easier along the way. Sincere thanks goes to the outstanding cast of professionals at Oxford University Press who have been with us every step of the way. Lori Stone Handelman—an Honors student of Dave Schroeder at Arkansas before earning her Ph.D. at Texas and then entering the publishing world—solicited a prospectus for this Handbook, secured the contract, and offered the necessary encouragement to get this project off the ground. After Lori left Oxford, Abby Gross took over for the latter stages of the process and continued to give us all the attention we needed to keep us moving forward. Chad Zimmerman and Molly Balikov were also of great assistance along the way and helped to bring the project to final fruition. We also thank Kevin Schroeder for creating the original painting that appears as the cover art; it portrays the message that we tried to emphasize throughout the Handbook—that complex prosocial behaviors are the results of a convergence of myriad personal and situational factors. Various individuals at Arkansas and Purdue have also lent a hand: Molly Price and Michelle Betzner from Arkansas helped with tedious clerical tasks that made Dave’s life more enjoyable and Sara Branch from Purdue reviewed and critiqued the first and last chapters to give Bill a big assist. Students in our seminars over the past several years gave us the chance to try out new ways to present our thoughts and to refine our thinking about prosocial behavior. Our deepest appreciation to all of these wonderful people.

Finally, we want to express our deepest appreciation and love to our families who have put up with and tolerated the distractions that our work on this project have caused. Our wives, Susie and Michele, have been tremendous throughout. They have truly epitomized prosociality!! Our children (Dave: Kevin and Lisa [and Fred as a new in-law addition]; Bill: Claudia) are old enough to have been away from home and the day-to-day inconveniences that a major writing project introduces. But at the end of the day, they continue to serve as inspirations for our commitment to better understanding how more prosocial behavior can be promoted at every level of everyone’s social relations.

Dave Schroeder

Fayetteville, AR


Bill Graziano

West Lafayette, IN