Testing the empathy-altruism hypothesis
Mills, Benjamin T.
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Feelings of empathic concern for a person in need predicts helping of that person, but there are two competing theoretical explanations for this helping motivation. According to the Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis (EAH), the motivation produced by empathic concern is altruistic. However, an alternative explanation for this relationship is that empathic concern produces one or more egoistic motivations that alone or simultaneously are responsible for helping. The goal of the present study was to test the EAH against this simultaneous egoistic hypothesis (SEH). Specifically, 160 undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh were told that they and another ostensible student were participating in a study designed to analyze the effects of communication with another person on reactions to tasks and task performance. Participants received a written communication from the ostensible student who discussed a recent breakup with a significant other. Perspective taking was manipulated to produce feelings of empathic concern for the ostensible student. Also manipulated across ten experimental conditions were dissimilarity to the ostensible student in need, likelihood of need improvement of the student, and ease of psychological escape from the person in need. Empathic concern for the person in need was measured, as was whether participants requested feedback about the ostensible student’s performance on a task that could potentially result in a positive outcome for the ostensible student. Results revealed evidence that all manipulations except for the psychological escape manipulation were successful. Consideration of feedback requests across all ten experimental conditions provided no clear evidence of predictive superiority of either the EAH or SEH explanations. However, results across three critical test conditions suggested the pattern of requested feedback more closely resembled the predictions made by the EAH than those made by the SEH.
Simultaneous Egoistic Hypothesis