Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Albert J. Lott


The purpose of this study was to examine how males and females who were categorized as prone to high or low risk behavior in pro-social situations would react when alone or in the presence of another to a simulated emergency where intervention to aid the victim appeared to entail considerable risk.

A group of subjects (Ss) took a pro-social Risk Taking Situations Scale (RTS), constructed for this experiment, that required indicating, that type of pro-social response the S believed he/she would make to another individual in distress. On the basis of the S's response to this set of risk-taking situations, the S was assigned to a high or low risk-taking group. These two groups were subdivided into either an "alone" or a "presence of other” condition prior to exposure to the simulated emergency. The specific concepts being investigated were: (1) how well could we predict how an individual would react in aiding a stranger in an emergency from knowing his/her preference for risk on a paper and pencil test, that is, how well could we predict pro-social behavior from a pro-social scale; (2) whether there would be a diffusion or infusion of responsibility to act when the S believed there was another witness to the emergency; and (3) whether males and females differed in the degree of risk they would be willing to undertake response to a simulated high risk emergency.

Supplemental information was gathered from each subject with three objective personality measures (Personality Research Form, Internal-External Control Scale, and Security-Insecurity Inventory). These measures were used post factum in order to (1) examine relevant correlations between organismic traits and pro-social, risk-taking behavior; (2) provide an additional dimension of explanation in analyzing the results obtained from the independent variables, and (3) compare their correlation s to the RTS Scale and investigate the feasibility of including such measures in the development of a discriminant function that could reliably predict high risk, pro-social behavior.

Statistical analyses of the results confirmed that two of the main variables, RTS score and Sex, were significantly related to type of behavioral response. High RTS scores were associated with direct higher risk-taking behavior, and low RTS scores with less risky, mere in direct forms of help. Males were more likely to exhibit direct intervention than females; the latter were about evenly split between direct and indirect forms of action. The Alone vs Other Condition did not appear to be an influential determinant. Some scales from the Personality Research Form and a few Demographic variables were found to significantly relate to behavioral response.

The findings were considered from the different perspectives offered by some major theoretical positions and each of the main variables were discussed. The relative efficacy of the RTS Scale was evaluated and ways in which the measure could be used in future research were suggested.



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