Prosocial behavior involves behavior that is both voluntary and intentional that benefits another or a group, and results from motivations that can be either positive, negative or both. Altruism may be viewed as a sub-set of prosocial behavior and while it too is voluntary and beneficial to others, altruism involves no expectation of reward or forethought concerning self-harm (Nelson, 1999). Definitions related to prosocial behaviors appear to be relatively straight-forward and are aligned with the one provided above.

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However, altruistic behavior appears not to be as clear-cut and this may have something to do with a reward component because it raises the issue as to whether selfless acts, when rewarded afterward, can actually be defined as being truly altruistic. For example, in psychology the argument continues that revolves around motivation and altruism; where there are no expectations or concerns involved to be truly altruistic, and where an expectation of some type of benefit, or where concerns about reprisals or judgments would be indicative of egoistic altruism, or prosocial behavior (Nelson, 1999).

Motivations involved with prosocial behaviors can be either intrinsic or extrinsic—inside or outside. A person may be motivated at work to do their job well, which may be beneficial to the employer’s bottom line and lead to a raise or promotion. While a raise or promotion has not been expressed by the employer, the worker is intrinsically motivated in the hopes or reaping a reward sometime later. However, providing extrinsic motivations can sometimes lead to negative consequences. In the case of work, research has found examples of an opposite effect where providing incentives has resulted in a reduction to job performance (Bénabou, & Tirole, 2005). A person who risks their own life to save another from a roaring house fire would certainly appear to be a good example of true altruism, but it appears that psychology is not satisfied with the basics in such situations, as internal forces, or arousals, become circumspect and are focused upon the degrees of personal distress and empathy (Nelson, 1999).