Behavioral and Brain Sciences2013-09-05 2:57 AM

On Sense-Making Reactions and Public Inhibition of Benign Social Motives: An Appraisal Model of Prosocial Behavior

Abstract This chapter describes a body of work on the social psychological implications of behavioral inhibition and disinhibition. Many social philosophers, economists, and other theorists have long assumed that it is good when people inhibit their behaviors, because behavioral inhibition will lead people to refrain from egoistic and socially undesirable behavior. In contrast, the line of research we describe shows that sometimes it is actions with benign social motives that are inhibited. Especially in confusing, unusual, ambiguous, or otherwise unsettling situations, people try to make sense of what is going on and how to behave. Sense making and social appraisal is facilitated when ongoing behavioral action is inhibited, but too strong activation of the behavioral inhibition system can block prosocial choices and prosocial behavior. Thus, lowering behavioral inhibition by reminding people of disinhibited behaviors they have performed in the past can promote prosocial choices and behavior. Findings reviewed here indeed reveal robust effects of behavioral disinhibition on classic social psychological phenomena, such as bystander intervention, moral decision making, conformity, ingroup affiliation, and social justice. These findings fit an appraisal–inhibition model of prosocial behavior. This model describes how people appraise situations and the psychological processes that lead them to engage in or refrain from normative and prosocial behaviors.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Behavioral and Brain Sciences is a peer-reviewed scientific journal of Open Peer Commentary established in 1978 by Stevan Harnad and published by Cambridge University Press. It is modeled on the journal Current Anthropology (which was established in 1959 by the University of Chicago anthropologist, Sol Tax).

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