could purpose deter prosociality?

could purpose deter prosociality?

If people are working to achieve their purpose, then they might be less likely to act prosocially if the opportunity to help does not seem to match the purpose. For example, while driving, a person witnesses a car accident. How likely is the person to help?

One might assume that purposeful people “are good” and therefore “do good” (Steger, Kashdan, & Oishi, 2008). This may not be the case.

As a beacon or compass for one’s life (Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003), purpose also filters perceptions (Marken, 2014). That means some purposes might filter out opportunities to be helpful.

Let us say that George’s purpose is to be a sports psychologist. In general, the life goal to help athletes be as psychologically strong as they are physically strong might tend to be categorized as an aim with beyond-the-self positive benefits.

But this aim prioritizes his time use to best help him reach the aim. For example, George takes classes, seeks guidance from those in the field, and regularly searches online for relevant information.

While driving to school, George witnesses the car accident. George’s dedication to his purpose might motivate him to ignore the accident in order to get to his class on time.

How might purposeful people be motivated to contribute generally, rather than selectively? Bridging the gap between purpose contribution and overall prosocial behavior may be achieved by finding ways to view prosocial behavior as under the umbrella of purpose contribution, or vice-versa. In the words of Charles De Lint (2003, p. 118), “The road leading to a goal does not separate you from the destination; it is essentially a part of it.”


        By Eliana Hadjiandreou, Clark University, USA



Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.

De Lint, C. (2003). Romano drom. Dreams underfoot: A Newford collection (pp. 118-134). New York, NY: Orb Books.

Marken, R. S. (2014). Doing research on purpose: A control theory approach to experimental psychology. St. Louis, MO: NewView.

Steger, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., & Oishi, S. (2008). Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(1), 22-42.