There is nothing I love more than a new perspective. My most recent shift came in the form of a text from my best friend Mahala, with whom I’ve been inseparable since junior high school. Knowing that she has always dreamed of starting a family of her own, I was not surprised to open my phone earlier this summer to a text saying, “Sarah, guess what? Tom proposed!”
Quickly thereafter, there were engagement pictures and wedding plans galore. As the weeks have gone by and the examination hundreds of “dusty rose” colored bridesmaid dresses has continued, I have noticed a shift in mentality. In the typical nature of planning ahead, our thinking has become predominantly futuristic.
Perhaps I am ahead of myself, but I cannot help but wonder, “What type of world will Tom and Mahala’s children enter into in the coming years?” As a young adult still in my undergraduate education, this question has (up until this point) been relatively foreign to me.
A bit of reading revealed that I am not alone in my question. The concern I felt for the well-being of my friends’ future children is referred to by literature as altruistic concern (5). Altruistic concern is separate from other types of concern, in that it is motivated by care for others instead of self. This care for others has been shown to inspire action through increased helping behaviors, referred to by the literature as prosocial behaviors (2).
Prosocial behaviors, such as donating time or funds to a social cause, have an end goal of benefitting others in society (2). With biologically driven survival instincts in mind, prosocial behaviors play a role in preserving the health, well-being, and continuance of the human race.
With subsequent content to appease my social concerns, I then turned to an environmental context. Though research is still sparse, studies have shown that a similar model of concern to behavior has been found towards the natural environment (4,1). According to Stern and Dietz (1994), environmental altruistic concern is the concern one has for nature with others outside of themselves in mind.
For example, an individual with high altruistic concern may wonder, “How can we take care of the environment so that my children/the community/ others can enjoy it?” In a natural resource management context, the question may then become, “How can we conserve these resources to sustain future children/ communities/ others?”
Environmental altruistic concern has also been shown to lead to an increase in reported beneficial behavioral change, known as pro-environmental behaviors (6). These behaviors include recycling as well as providing donations to environmental causes (6).
Though I have done research on these topics before, never have they been so relevant to me. As I move through this transitional phase of young adulthood, I am reminded that I and those around me are slowly assuming responsibility for the generations of the future. What type of concern will we have towards social and environmental issues? More importantly, will we impart these prosocial and pro-environmental behaviors on the generations to follow? Stay tuned for the answer!
In closing, I would like to congratulate the soon-to-be Tom and Mahala Disney. I love you both dearly. Thank you for bringing personal relevance to my research this summer and reminding me of the importance of applied studies for generations to come.
- Berenguer, J. (2007). The Effect of Empathy in Proenvironmental Attitudes and Behaviors. Environment And Behavior, 39(2), 269-283.
- Davis, M. H. (2015). Empathy and prosocial behavior. In D. A. Schroeder, W. G. Graziano, D. A. Schroeder, W. G. Graziano (Eds.) , The Oxford handbook of prosocial behavior (pp. 282-306). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
- Kim, S., & Kou, X. (2014). Not all empathy is equal: How dispositional empathy affects charitable giving. Journal Of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 26(4), 312-334.
- Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: The effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.
- Stern, P. C., & Dietz, T. (1994). The value basis of environmental concern. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 65–84.
- Tam, K. (2015). Mind attribution to nature and proenvironmental behavior. Ecopsychology, 7(2), 87-95.