Do you find time to volunteer?
For what reason?
Is it something personally important to you? Or is it something that your culture values?
We’ve been talking about prosocial behavior in culture over the last couple of weeks, including donating money.
This week, we’ll look at what values might contribute to a culture of volunteering.
When you think of volunteering, you probably think of giving your time and energy regularly to an organization – working at a food bank, helping your church bake sale, participating in big brother/sister, etc.
But there are different forms of volunteering.
One form – spontaneous helping – was the focus of a study on cross-cultural differences in helping strangers.
Research was conducted in big cities – New York, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, etc. – of 23 countries.
Non-emergency situations were set up, in order to assess how frequently strangers might proactively come to a person’s aid.
These situations included a stranger dropping a pen, a stranger with an injured leg trying to pick up magazines, and a blind person crossing the street.
These three measures resulted in a relatively stable helping rate per city.
But the findings across cities varied greatly.
Brazilians vs. Malaysians
The highest helping rate – 93% – was found in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
This finding is in line with past studies of cultural norms in Spanish and Latin American countries.
Such studies have highlighted the cultural value of “simpatia” in such cultures – i.e. a demonstrated politeness and helpfulness to strangers and a proactive concern for others.
The lowest helping rate – 40% – was found in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Being that both Brazil and Malaysia are collectivist cultures, this result contradicts the theory that collectivist societies might have a higher helping rate than individualist societies, due to their social orientation.
In reality, the results were all over the map in relation to collectivism vs. individualism and helping, with cities in some collectivist countries averaging higher helping rates – like San Jose, Costa Rica (91.33%) and Lilongwe, Malawi (86%) – while others had low rates – like Singapore (48%) and Sofia, Bulgaria (57%).
Conversely, some individualist cultures were high on the scale – like Vienna (81%) and Copenhagen (77.67%) – while others were low – like New York City (44.67%) and Amsterdam (53.67%).
One curious finding was the inverse relationship between helping and the country’s economic productivity.
That is, helping occurred less on the whole in wealthier countries than in poorer ones.
This might suggest that some cultures show more care for each other out of necessity.
Next week, we’ll talk more about different avenues of volunteering and their cultural relevance.