Social psychologists have long known that for altruism, helping behavior, to occur, three things must happen:
- You see someone in urgent need of help.
- You feel a personal responsibility to them.
- You know how to help and can help.
NASA knows Watney can’t survive on Mars alone, they feel responsible for mistakenly leaving him there, and their rescue plan have some chance of success. NASA is moving forward with a rescue plan because all of these criteria are met.
The same thing happens to you and me every day. Get a frantic text from a friend asking for a place to crash and if you have room you’ll let them. If someone asks you for directions, and you know where they’re going, you’ll respond. When there’s a natural disaster, your sense of responsibility to your neighbors increases and you’re more likely to share your resources.
But the less responsible you feel, the less likely you are to help. Ever been in a situation when someone fell down in front of a group of people and no one did anything? What happened is responsibility became diffused and spread out across everyone there. No one knew who should act.
Knowing what to do is a big barrier to altruism. Most of us keep walking past a homeless person in the streets because we just don’t know how to help them. The more this happens, the easier it becomes to ignore the issue of homelessness.
Supporting NASA, Again