Earlier this week the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti ended. Current estimates suggest that upwards of 200,000 people may have perished, and efforts now turn to the approximately 3 million Haitians affected by the quake. They are in need of everything from medical care to housing, but most importantly food. Despite the outpouring of both monetary and other aid internationally, getting help to those in need has proven difficult. New York Times columnist Damien Cave highlighted Hatian’s struggle to find food in a recent article emphasizing that even in such dire circumstances sharing and fairness are held in high regard among survivors. Stealing food is a capital offense and those who are able to find food no matter how much or how little are expected to share. Some have taken an even larger role in the recovery process setting up makeshift soup kitchens.
Some suggest that no act is every truly selfless since donors receive positive psychological benefits (e.g., boost in self-esteem, positive affect, etc.) among other possible rewards. Current research indicates that altruistic actions are motivated by empathic concern intended to end the suffering of others as opposed to reducing negative arousal in the self (Stocks, Lishner, & Decker, 2009). Whether there are intrinsic or extrinsic benefits to helping others, survivors are showing that there is an alternative to the “every man for himself” attitude. Either by sharing what little they have or pooling their remaining resources to help as many as possible Haitians are embodying a community spirit in which altruism thrives. One can only hope that these efforts will continue and that much needed resources will reach those much in need.
Fighting Starvation, Haitians Share Portions
Altruism or psychological escape: Why does empathy promote prosocial behavior?
American culture has always rallied around the underdog – perhaps because we can always see a little bit of ourselves in anyone who is not expected to win. After all, we are a nation of immigrants who had to fight against all the odds to make the American Dream a reality. And although we may have long forgotten about our ancestors’ particular struggles, that sense of longing for fairness and justice, that desire to take on “The Man” and win, remains an essential element of the American psyche.
Although the research is in its infancy, the underdog effect has found support. In short, we pull for underdogs and give them a relatively steadfast sympathy, so long as their fate has little bearing on our own personal lives and when the impact, in the larger scheme of things, is relatively minimal; indeed, backing an underdog financially is a completely different beast!
Given the recent Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno-NBC late night drama that happened right before our eyes on live TV, we find ourselves yet again anecdotally substantiating what Americans have been known for all along – loving those underdogs. Robert Lloyd of the L.A. Times reports that, towards the very end of Conan’s stunted seven-month run as “Tonight Show” host, the audience – including non-regular Conan lovers – chanted his name and guests starting appearing on the show just to show support, with nothing to sell. As Lloyd laments that “[Conan] is the picked-upon odd kid in all of us… lovable, where Leno [is]… a creature of the establishment,” we truly understand why so many of us cheered for Conan: as an underdog, he represents a possibility – that eventually he’ll get back on track, on some network, and will be better than ever. And if he can rise out of this mess and end up winning – then by golly, so can I.
Late Night Watch: Conan O’Brien, NBC and the storm before the calm
Rooting for (and Then Abandoning) the Underdog