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Pro-social Behaviour: Empathy, Perspectives and Distress

1497 word (6 pages) essay in Psychology

03/04/18 Psychology Reference this

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Empathy and Prosocial Behavior

Empathetic people will be more likely to perform prosocial behavior as they are able to feel others’ distress, suffering, and pain (Taylor et al., 2013). Taylor et al. (2013) conduct a study to measure the development of empathy and prosocial behavior and found that empathy is associated to prosocial behavior as empathy will develops and enhance children’s emotional understanding, perspective taking, and awareness of others’ feelings. These skills are crucial for children as it encourages them to feel for others in distress and facilitates helping behavior. Roberts, Strayer, Denham (2014) also conducted a study to measure the relationship between emotions and prosocial behavior. They found that empathy is significantly associated to prosocial behavior while having negative relationship with antisocial behavior as empathetic people are more considerate and more likely to feel for others. This then lead empathetic people to help others in distress and less likely to disrupt others in distress. In addition, Lockwood, Seara-Cardoso, and Viding (2014) further examine this relationship by measuring the relationship between cognitive and affective empathy, and prosocial behavior. Their study found that cognitive and affective components of empathy are both independently associated with prosocial behavior. Cognitive empathy promotes prosocial behavior by altering the perspective or attention of empathetic people to those in distress, while affective empathy promotes prosocial behavior by shifting their feeling to those in distress. In other words, people who are empathetic cognitively or affectively are more like to exhibit higher levels of prosocial behavior.

Perspective-taking and prosocial behavior. Carlo, Knight, Eisenberg, and Rotenberg (1991) conducted a study measuring the cognitive processes and prosocial behaviors among children by assigning the children into helping situation. Their study concluded that children with perspective-taking have higher rates of prosocial behavior as perspective-takers are able understand the thoughts of others in distress. Oswald (1996) conducted a study to measure the impact of perspective-taking onto helping behavior. Respondents are required to observe and fill in the questionnaires regarding their thoughts on the film. He found that perspective-takers engaged in more prosocial behavior as they are able to understand and recognize the thoughts of others who are in distress and require assistance. Another study measures the relationship between empathy and prosocial found a positive relationship between perspective-taking and prosocial behavior (Litvak-Miller & McDougall, 1997). Their study found that perspective-takers are more likely to feel for others and understand the affective state of others which then motivates them to help others especially those in distress. Lupinetti (1999) conducted a study perspective-taking, social competence, and prosocial behavior among children. Her study found that perspective-taking is linked to prosocial behavior as perspective-takers are aware of another’s distress and will act to relieve that distress.

According to Maner et al. (2002), perspective-taking is related to helping behavior as higher levels of perspective-taking lead to increase in helping behavior. The authors reasoned that perspective-taker will take on another’s perspective before acting prosocially. In other words, perspective-takers will put themselves into others’ situation and perceive their distress before helping them. Another filed experiment conducted to measure the relationship between perspective-taking, helping, and self-awareness found that perspective-taker have higher tendency to engage in helping behavior (Abbate, Isgrò, Wicklund, & Boca, 2006). Their study reasoned that respondents engaged in helping behavior due to their ability to look at others’ perspective. Garaigordobil (2009) conducted a study on empathy and prosocial behavior among children and adolescence, and reported a positive association between perspective-taking and prosocial behavior. The study claimed that children and adolescence are able to take others’ perspective into consideration before they act prosocially. In addition, Knafo, Steinberg, and Goldner (2011) measure the relationship between perspective-taking and self-initiated pro-sociality. Their study found that low perspective-taking is linked with low self-initiated pro-sociality as non-perspective-taking are unable interpret the social cues accurately which is crucial for altruism and helping. Moreover, another study measures the relationship between perspective-taking and prosocial behavior among children found a positive relationship between these two variables (Farrant, Devine, Maybery, & Fletcher, 2012). Their study found children who are encouraged by their parents to take others’ perspective are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. Their study also reasoned that perspective-taking children are more responsive to others’ thoughts and feeling, and have higher sensitivity which then leads to prosocial behavior.

In short, the existing studies favor the relationship between perspective-taking and prosocial behavior. The existing studies found that perspective-taker are more likely to apprehend, understand, and be responsive to others’ thoughts and feeling. This then motivate them to participate in helping behavior as they are able to attend to others’ distress.

Personal distress and prosocial behavior. Eisenberg (2010) conducted a study measuring the relationship between empathy-related responding and moral behavior and found that personal distress is able to predict prosocial behavior. Her study found that people with personal distress tend to engage in helping behavior in order to alleviate their own distress that emerged from observing others’ distress. In other words, people with personal distress will feel distress after observing others’ in distress, they then engage in helping behavior in order to lessen their own distress. Another study that measures the relationship between empthy and prosocial behavior among older adults found that personal distress is associated with prosocial behavior when respondents are presented with distressing film (Sze, Gyurak, Goodkind, & Levenson, 2012). Their study reasoned that people with personal distress manifest uneasiness which is developed from apprehension of other’s situation or emotional state. This then lead people with personal distress to help others who are in dire situation or emotional state.

On the other hand, there are studies that found contrasting result regarding the relationship between personal distress and prosocial behavior. Batson, O’Quin, Fultz, Vanderplas, and Isen (1983) conducted a study measuring the impact of personal distress on motivation to help. Their study found that personal distress will lead to egoistic motivation as the intention to help is to minimize his/her personal distress. In addition, they will not engage in helping behaviors if they can break away from the distress stressor (e.g., people in d need of help) easily. In other words, people will personal distress might not be engaging in helping behavior with altruistic intent and might not engage in helping behavior if they can break away from the situation. Another study conducted to measure the relationship between traits and prosocial behavior found that personal distress is not related to helping behavior in both easy and difficult to escape circumstances (Batson, Bolen, Cross, & Neuringer-Benefiel, 1986). Their study found that people with personal distress are not altruistically motivated to help compared to non-personal distress people. In addition, Batson, Fultz, and Schoenrade (1987) conducted a study measuring the relationship between personal distress and prosocial behavior. Their study found no significant relationship between personal distress and prosocial behavior as people with personal distress are able to alleviate their distress by not offering help to those in distress. Another study conducted by Carlo, Allen, and Buhman (1999) measuring the relationship between perspective-taking, personal distress, and prosocial behavior found an insignificant relationship between personal distress and prosocial behavior. Their study found that personal distress is negatively correlated to prosocial behavior as people with personal distress are more likely to focus on their own distress which could be alleviated by avoiding other people in distress.

Maner et al. (2002) conducted a study to measure the relationship between personal distress and altruistic behavior. Their study concluded that personal distress is not correlated with helping behavior as people with personal distress do not engage in prosocial behavior in altruistic manner. This then will reduce their likelihood in performing future helping behavior. According to Bierhoff and Rothman (2004), personal distress is found to be insignificantly related to prosocial behavior. Their study claimed that people with personal distress tend to choose the alternative that ensures the least cost and higher reward in order to alleviate their distress. In other words, people with personal distress might not engage in helping behaviors when they are able to escape or ignore those in distress. Additionally, Trommsdorff, Friedlmeier, and Mayer (2007) conducted a study measuring traits and prosocial behavior across four different cultures (Germany, Israel, Indonesia, and Malaysia). They found out that distress is not correlated with prosocial behavior in Malaysia as respondents with personal distress tend to reduce their feeling of distress by shifting their attention away from the victims. Furthermore, Carrera et al. (2013) supported this finding as they conduct an experiment measuring the helping behavior of the participants after presenting them with an article that elicits empathy and personal distress. Their study also found that helping behavior is low when personal distress is high as people with personal distress are more likely to alleviate their own discomfort compared to helping those in distress situation.

In short, the existing studies show that there is a negative relationship between personal distress and prosocial behavior. This is because personal distress might lead to self-focus distress alleviation instead of helping others to relieve their distress.

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