University of Limerick
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The role of empathy and responsibility in charitable giving: a mixed methods investigation

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posted on 2022-12-15, 09:24 authored by Caitríona Kinsella
The literature on empathic concern and perceptions of similarity as traditional explanations for helping behaviours has included studies at the individual (Batson et al., 1991), the intragroup (Houston, 1990) and the intergroup (Sturmer, Snyder & Omoto, 2005) level. The concept of self-ascribed responsibility (as responsibility attributed to the self), however, has been largely overlooked in terms of how it can in uence helping behaviours. While some paradigms emphasise the importance of the di usion of responsibility in explaining when and why people do not intervene to help (Latan e e & Darley, 1970), little attention has been paid to the processes involved in the reversal of this speci c aspect of the bystander e ect phenomenon (the e ect of an increased sense of responsibility on helping). The aim of this mixed methods thesis is to develop our understanding of the role of empathy and self-ascribed responsibility as they relate to intergroup helping and charitable giving. The rst exploratory study of this project adopted a discursive psychological approach (Edwards & Potter, 1992). In looking at how charity and non-charity workers produced accounts of their own and others charitable giving, the anal- ysis demonstrated the strategic use of interpretative repertoires (Pot- ter & Wetherell, 1987) of empathy and responsibility. These reper- toires were invoked at di erent times, and in di erent ways, through- out the discursive interactions depending on the particular function they were deployed to serve. Empathy was invoked by constructing speci c versions of the recipient group in speakers' accounts, whereas responsibility was drawn upon by constructing speci c versions of the relationship between donor and recipient of help. Previous research has suggested empathic concern as an important factor in helping situations (Batson et al., 1991; Sturmer et al., 2005) however self-ascribed responsibility in social psychological studies on helping has not been systematically examined, save through its ab- sence. Therefore, the second study of this thesis adopted a quantita- tive method of investigation, and sought to determine whether or not empathy and responsibility (shifting from interpretative repertoires to concepts operationalised as constructs) would be seen to indepen- dently predict helping behaviours in the form of intentions to donate. Results of a survey study showed that both variables contributed sep- arately to donation proclivity. Subsequently, a series of experiments (2x2 factorial designs) were conducted which primed either empathy or responsibility as normative aspects of the ingroup's identity, and then o ered participants the opportunity to indicate intentions to donate to di erent types of target groups (presented as either blame- worthy or innocent, ingroup or outgroup, and nally threatening or non-threatening). Results suggest that while empathy as a normative aspect of one's social identity can predict helping that is oftentimes contingent on certain criteria, namely the target group presenting as ingroup members, as innocent of their fate and as non-threatening, responsibility appears to prime a di erent set of considerations when choosing to give. Those primed with responsibility were seen to over- come issues of group membership, blame and threats to shared re- sources to essentially give equal amounts to all target groups. It is therefore suggested that responsibility can be viewed as poten- tially altruistic in its ability to help in costly situations, as not suscep- tible to an SIT prediction of ingroup bias, and can prime a collective identity more so than empathic concern. This interpretation of the ndings has important implications for the consistent donations char- itable organisations rely on in terms of long-term giving.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Stevenson, Clifford





Department or School

  • Psychology

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