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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986 Apr;50(4):761-9.

Social evaluation and the empathy-altruism hypothesis.


Archer, Diaz-Loving, Gollwitzer, Davis, and Foushee (1981) suggested that feeling empathy for a person in need may lead to increased helping because the empathic individual wants to avoid negative social evaluation. As support for this suggestion, they claimed that empathy leads to increased helping only under socially evaluative circumstances. We conducted two studies to test this claim. In Study 1 subjects were led to believe that no one--including the person in need--would ever know if they declined to help. In this situation, which was designed to be totally devoid of the potential for negative social evaluation for not helping, there was still a positive relationship between self-reported empathic emotion and offering help. In Study 2 empathy (low versus high) and social evaluation (low versus high) were manipulated in a 2 X 2 design. Once again there was a positive relationship between empathy and offering help when the potential for social evaluation was low as well as high. Results of both studies, then, suggest that the motivation to help evoked by empathy is not egoistic motivation to avoid negative social evaluation. Instead, the observed pattern was what would be expected if empathy evokes altruistic motivation to reduce the victim's need.

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