Skip to content Skip to navigation

Normative Explanations of Helping Behavior: A Critique, Proposal and Empirical Test

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 9, p.349-364 (1973)



Criticisms of normative explanations of helping behavior are examined, and an explanation responsive to these criticisms is proposed. This explanation specifies conditions which affect the activation of personal norms and hence their influence on behavior. One hypothesis based on the explanation was tested: the impact of norms on behavior is a function of the tendency to deny or to ascribe responsibility to the self (AR). AR and personal norms toward donating bone marrow to a stranger were measured in a mailed questionnaire. Three months later, 132 women received mailed appeals to join a pool of potential donors from an unrelated source. As predicted, volunteering was a function of the AR personal norm interaction (p < .0001). Personal norms had no impact on volunteering among those low on AR (deniers), but a substantial impact among those high on AR. Neither intentions to donate, attitudes toward transplants, nor various sociodemographic variables added to the variance in volunteering accounted for by the AR personal norm interaction.