The Relationship Between How Altruistic Behaviour and Age
Word count: 1500 (1553)words
University students completed a questionnaire to determine if there was a correlation between altruism and age. The results were also used to test the hypothesis that the older the participant, the higher their altruism score would be. However, the results indicated that as age increases, altruism scores decrease. Each of the 255 participants completed a 20-item questionnaire, the Self Report Altruism Scale (SRAS) developed by Rushton, Chrisjohn, and Fekken (1981). These questions asked participants questions about the frequency of their altruistic behaviours and altruism as a personality trait. The results were calculated, and each participant was given an altruism score, used to correlate with their age. Further research will allow the results of this study to be generalised by ensuring a balanced proportion of ages, citizenship status and genders through sampling a larger and more diverse population. The results of this study give insight into the altruistic behaviour displayed by participants from a variety of demographic backgrounds. These results can also be used to investigate why these results occurred and to explain and encourage altruistic behaviour.
The Relationship Between How Altruistic a Person is and Their Age
Altruism is a trait found in all people. However, some people display more altruistic behaviour than others (Ohja & Mishra, 2014). Altruism is described by Batson and Shaw’s study (1991, as cited in Freund ; Blanchard-Fields, 2014) as a motivational condition where a person’s central goal is to improve other people’s welfare, without expecting their well-being to improve in return. A few studies (e.g., Ohja ; Mishra, 2014; Baylis ; Downie, 2010) have concluded that there is a correlation between age and altruistic behaviour showing that as age increases, the frequency of that person displaying altruistic behaviour also increases. Other researchers such as Long and Krause (2017) believe that the occurrence of altruistic behaviour is determined by the age of the recipient of your altruistic behaviour and your social proximity to that person, as opposed to your age.
It is fundamental to know why people display altruistic behaviours and at what age people are more likely to show these behaviours as it can help us to encourage people to be more altruistic. In this study, we utilised the 20-item questionnaire by Rushton, Chrisjohn, and Fekken (1981) called the Self Report Altruism Scale (SRAS). The research of Rushton et al., (1981) attempted to establish altruism as a trait of personality instead of a moral principle. Rushton et al., (1981) states that many studies at the time did not believe that altruism was a trait and criticises these experiments based on reliability and validity. To test their theory, the SRAS was given to 118 university students who completed the questionnaire. To ensure that the SRAS had validity each participant’s score was compared to the altruism rating forms provided by eight people who knew them well. Rushton et al., (1981) believed that the scores would be similar as altruism is a stable trait. In conclusion, Rushton et al., (1981) found that there was a significant relationship between the participants SRAS scores and the altruism rating forms completed by their peers (p < 0.05).
Based on these findings, this study aimed to confirm that there is a correlation between a person’s age and the frequency of their altruistic behaviour, which was reflected by their altruism score. After reviewing a variety of research, it was expected that the altruism scores of the older participants would be higher than the younger participants as it is believed that older people are more altruistic than younger people. It was hypothesised that the older the participant, the higher their altruism score would be because they are more likely to display altruistic behaviour.
This participants in this study consisted of 255 university students. This included 193 females, 59 males and three others. The age range for this study was 39, including participants aged 16 to 55 years of age, with a mean age of 23.73 years of age (SD =8.46). The participants were from a variety of nationalities, some of which are Australian citizens and others were not. This study included 244 Australian citizens and 11 participants who are not Australian citizens. All participants partook in this study voluntarily and were not offered any incentives.
The measure used in this study was the Self Report Altruism Scale (SRAS), which measures altruism as a personality trait. The 20-item questionnaire was developed by Rushton, Chrisjohn, and Fekken (1981) and asks participants questions about how often they perform altruistic behaviours. Participants can score between 0 and 80 on this measure with 80 being the most altruistic. An example of one of the questions is, “I have given a stranger a lift in my car”. Participants were then instructed to rate how often they have completed each of the 20 altruistic tasks using a 5-point Likert Scale, with the options of very often, often, more than once, once, or never. At the top of the data collection sheet participants were also required to answer questions regarding their demographics including their age, gender and whether they are a citizen or permanent resident of Australia. Every participant used an electronic device such as a mobile phone, tablet or computer to complete the measure and their scores were automatically calculated, without the participants viewing their score. The scoring and analysis of the data was completed by the course lecturer using the Statistical Package for Social Science, developed by SPSS Inc.
All 255 participants received the same questionnaire to complete at their choice of setting and time through a link on an online university page. Before commencing the completion of SRAS, each participant had to complete the demographic section of the data collection sheet. Participants were then instructed to rate how often they performed each of 20 altruistic tasks, as explained in the materials section, very often to never. The participant had to select one box for each question to indicate how frequently they have completed the altruistic task, with all possible scores falling between 0 and 80 on the SRAS, where 80 is the most altruistic. As the participants completed the measure online, their altruism score was automatically calculated online, using the Statistical Package for Social Science to reduce errors in the calculations of the scores. Each participants altruism score was then correlated with their age to create graphs and to establish the relationship between altruism and age.
Initially, the analysis of the results indicated that the younger the person, the more altruistic they are. It was found that the lowest altruism score for the 255 participants was 13 and the highest was 72. The mean altruism score for the study was 45.24 (rounded to 2 decimal places), and the standard deviation was 11.36 (rounded to 2 decimal places). This created a positive skew in the data with no outliers needing to be removed.
Figure 1. represents the correlation between each participants age and their altruism score. The scatterplot indicates that there was a significant negative, and weak, relationship between age and altruism scores as r (253) = -0.29, p ; .001, 2 tailed. This result does not support the hypothesis which predicted that the older the participant, the higher their altruism score would be. As this result was significant (p ; .001) it indicates that the relationship between altruism and age is not due to chance. Thus, as the age of the participant increases, their altruism score decreases.
Figure 1. A scatterplot showing the correlation between the age of the participants and their altruism score.Discussion
A significant negative relationship was found between the age and the altruism scores of the participants of the study, which did not support the hypothesis that the older the participant, the higher their altruism score would be. These results do not support the results found by previous researchers. Therefore, this result was unexpected as it was thought that as the age increases, altruistic behaviour increases. These results could have been influenced by a variety of extraneous variables such as the type of device the participants used to complete the questionnaire, where and how much time they had to complete the questionnaire and social desirability bias if they completed the questionnaire in the presence of others. These factors may have caused participants to directly or indirectly alter their results which could have caused a weak correlation.
Some limitations of this study included that most participants were young people (M= 23.73), female (62 out of 255 participants were not female), and Australian citizens (11 out of 255 participants were not Australian citizens). These limitations may have consequently skewed or altered the results. In future investigations, participants should be sampled from the public as opposed to a university to avoid such a concentrated sample of younger people. This will also evade the limitation of using a concentrated sample of Australian citizens. Future investigations should also ensure a balanced ratio of females, males and others to utilise a more diverse sample concerning gender. This will allow for the results to be generalised to the broader population. Despite these limitations, this study has many strengths. One of these strengths includes the use of the Self Report Altruism Scale which is a reliable, valid scale, used and developed by Rushton, Chrisjohn, and Fekken (1981).
The results from this study are vital as they provide insight into the altruistic behaviours displayed by young people, older people, and university students in general. By gaining this understanding, we can explore the reasons behind this behaviour. Overall, the results suggested that the older the participant, the less likely they are to exhibit altruistic behaviour. This may be because older people are not as extroverted as young people, less generous or more frugal than young people, or older people may feel too unsafe to exhibit some altruistic behaviour, such as giving a stranger a lift. Older people may still be overcoming the Global Financial Crisis from ten years ago. Young people may also feel more inclined to help others as there are many volunteering opportunities for them and awareness about those less fortunate. By utilising these results, we can gain an understanding of how altruistic behaviours differ between younger and older people. From these results, we can also conduct further investigations to find explanations for these results and thus, a program to encourage older people to become more altruistic.References
Baylis, F., ; Downie, J. (2010). The limits of altruism and arbitrary age limits. The American Journal Of Bioethics, 3(4), 19-21. doi: 10.1162/152651603322614454
Freund, A., ; Blanchard-Fields, F. (2014). Age-related differences in altruism across adulthood: Making personal financial gain versus contributing to the public good. Developmental Psychology, 50(4), 1125-1136. doi: 10.1037/a0034491
Long, M., ; Krause, E. (2017). Altruism by age and social proximity. PLoS ONE, 12(8), 1-24. doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0180411
Ohja, A., ; Mishra, R. (2014). Altruism as a function of age and deprivation: An interactional study. Journal Of The Indian Academy Of Applied Psychology, 40(2), 310-314. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.murdoch.edu.au/docview/1629407414/fulltextPDF/162776D72324070PQ/1?accountid=12629
Rushton, J. P., Chrisjohn, R. D., ; Fekken, G. C. (1981). The altruistic personality and the self-report altruism scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 2(4), 293-302. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(81)90084-2