The Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute was founded in 1982 by Dr. Samuel P. Oliner and Dr. Pearl Oliner, who recognized the need for more research into the areas of altruism and prosocial behavior. The Institute was founded with the dual purpose of studying specific examples of heroic and conventional altruism and seeking out ways to enhance altruism and prosocial behavior in society. The institute's founder and director, Samuel P. Oliner,is a native of Poland and a Holocaust survivor. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Humboldt State University. The Institute's Co-Founder, Pearl Oliner, is an Emeritus Professor of Education at Humboldt State University, Arcata, California.
In 2010, the Institute welcomed Dr. Ronnie Swartz, LCSW as a Co-Director. Ronnie is a Professor in the Humboldt State University Department of Social Work and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He has been engaged in practicing and teaching social work to facilitate change for individuals, families, organizations, and communities since 1994. He is particularly interested in the living wisdom and knowledge people have developed, and the processes through which this wisdom and knowledge is marginalized by dominant cultural discourses. Ronnie's community work has focused on inclusive services that maintain youth and family relationships and minimize out-of-home placements. This has largely taken the form of Wraparound planning in education, mental health, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse and child welfare settings. He is committed to socially just practices that assist people in the realization of their preferred ways of being in the world.
The work of the Institute has been featured in the films To Give or Not to Give, Rescuers Speaking (also published as a play by Harwood Publishing), and To Help Someone (which has aired on both British and Canadian television). In addition, other research has been reported by both popular and academic press, as well as national and international radio and television broadcasts.
Since 1982, The Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute has fostered or participated in several national and international conferences that have addressed the concept of altruism and how to achieve a more caring society and a more harmonious world. These conferences, whose participants came from the fields of education, psychology, sociology, and assorted social science, have been held in Berlin, Moscow, London, Oxford, Warsaw, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The institute has also conducted several workshops for teachers and educators on altruism and prosocial behavior.