prosocial behavior, altruistic behavior, relief effort, faith community, reciprocal altruism


When disasters strike, many people rise to the challenge of providing immediate assistance to those whose lives are in peril. The spectrum of helping behaviors to counter the devastating effects of a natural disaster is vast and can be seen on many levels, from concerned individuals and community groups to volunteer organizations and larger civic entities. In this chapter, we examine the psychology of helping in relation to natural disasters. Definitions of helping behaviors, why we help, and risks of helping others are discussed first. Next, we discuss issues specific to natural disasters and life span considerations, noting the developmental progression of age-related, altruistic motivations. We present a qualitative analysis of helping behaviors based on interviews with participants in the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study (LHAS; see Cherry, Silva, & Galea, Chapter 9). These data show that some people directly engaged in helping behaviors to further the relief effort after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while others spoke of helping indirectly through their associations with local churches and faith-based organizations that provided storm relief. Implications for helping behaviors and intentions to help in a post-disaster situation are considered.

Original Publication Citation

Silva, J., Marks, L. D., & Cherry, K. (2009). The psychology behind helping and prosocial behaviors: An examination from intention to action in an adult population. In K. Cherry (ed.), Lifespan Perspectives on Natural Disasters: Coping with Katrina, Rita and other Storms (pp. 219-240). New York: Springer.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date







Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor