Social Psychology of Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviour

Module titleSocial Psychology of Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviour
Module codePSY3415
Academic year2015/6
Module staff

Professor Mark Levine (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will examine work at the cutting edge of contemporary research on prosocial and antisocial behaviour. In particular it will challenge the conventional wisdom that group processes make people more prone to violence and less prone to help each other. To participate effectively in the module you will need a background in traditional social psychological theories about group behaviour – and be ready to explore the human capacity for good and evil. The module will require you to interrogate and evaluate theory; to analyse real world examples of pro and antisocial behaviour; and to consider practical ways to tackle intractable social problems.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will allow you to study of ‘big picture’ questions about human nature (e.g. are humans innately good or bad? Do humans find violence hard or easy?). You will explore contemporary events in which pro or antisocial behaviors are evident (e.g. helping after disasters and emergencies; atrocities in civil wars). The aim will be to examine the contribution that social psychological theory and research can make to understanding such behavior. Finally, the module will encourage you to devise theoretically and practically informed ways of tackling antisocial behavior and promoting prosocial behavior.  As such, the module will be relevant to those of you who hope to develop expertise in influence processes and behavior change which you can then use in employment settings.

The module will develop key employability skills in:

  • Problem solving (working out how to use theoretical insights to offer practical solutions to difficult social problems)
  • Collaboration  (working with others to develop key ideas and respond to practical challenges)
  • Solution focus (breaking down problems into manageable units and developing constructive plans of action
  • Influencing others (learning how to assess an audience and working out what the key persuasive messages are)
  • Time management (meeting short term and long term deadlines for presentations and coursework)

These skills will be assessed in the class presentation and in the coursework  (which requires you to write a non-technical report for a client (E.g. a charity; NGO, government agency, etc.) which showcases your ability to use theory to make a practical contribution to the work of the organisation.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Evaluate traditional and contemporary approaches to the study of antisocial behaviour in psychology
  • 2. Evaluate traditional and contemporary approaches to the study of prosocial behaviour in psychology

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Explain how psychological theory and practice can inform understanding of prosocial and antisocial behavior at the level of the individual, the group and the society.
  • 4. Understand and apply theoretical ideas to the development of practical strategies for tackling antisocial and promoting prosocial behaviour

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Analyse and synthesise complex theories about human behavior, engage in argument and persuasion about the nature of human nature and explain how to understand the limits of such behaviour
  • 6. Draw on psychological theory to plan practical intervention strategies to change behavior (i.e to promote prosocial and tackle antisocial behavior)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

1)     A group level approach to prosocial and antisocial behaviour.

2)     Crowd behaviour revisited.

3)     Bystander behaviour revisited.

4)     Ordinary people, atrocities and resistance.

5)     States of Denial – why don’t we help more?

6)     Beyond Prejudice – thinking about contact and social change.

7)     Reading week.

8)     Violence: hard or easy?

9)     The psychology and politics of helping.

10)  Natural conflict resolution.

11)  Summary and synthesis.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Seminars (11 x 3 hours)
Guided Independent Study100Preparation for seminars
Guided Independent Study17Preparation for essay and exam


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Class presentations of case studies10-15 minutesAllPeer critique: informal discussion

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination603 hoursAllGeneric feedback via module ELE page
Consultant report402000 wordsAllWritten on script


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
Consultant reportConsultant reportAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the report you will be required to resubmit the report. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core texts:

Dovidio, J., Piliavin, J.A., Schroeder, D. and Penner, L. (2006). The Social Psychology of Prosocial Behavior. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Miller, A.G. (Ed) (2004) The social psychology of good and evil. New York: Guilford Press.

Sturmer, S.and Snyder, M.(Eds.) (2010). The Psychology of Prosocial Behavior: Group processes, intergroup relations, and helping .Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Recommended reading:

Collins, R (2008) 2008. Violence. A micro-sociological theory. Princeton University Press

Penner, L. A., Dovidio, J. F., Piliavin, J. A. and Schroeder, D. A. (2005).Prosocial behavior: Multilevel perspectives. Annual Review of Psychology, 563, 65–92.

Pinker , S (2011) The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Allen Lane

(Specific readings will be provided for each topic)

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, social psychology, prosocial, antisocial, behaviour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date