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Author

Athena Hensel

Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Scott T. Allison

Abstract

Empathy, the ability to share, understand and respond to another's perceived or imagined emotional state, is a fundamental process by which people navigate their social worlds (Preston & Hofelich, 2012). Empathy has considerable implications for how one perceives and responds to someone in distress or need, drawing one's attention to their welfare and motivating other-oriented feelings and behavior while regulating one's own negative affect (Sibicky, Schroeder & Dovidio, 1995; Eisenberg, 2010). Consider the scenario of encountering a homeless man asking for money: through emotional empathy--the "correspondent movements" of affect evoked by witnessing another's emotions--you might feel vicarious pangs of sadness or involuntarily display an unhappy facial expression upon attending to the man's sad face or voice (Wallbott, 1991; Dimberg, Thunberg & Elmehed, 2000). This "contracted" sadness may precipitate feelings of compassion or sympathy for the man, which may in turn motivate prosocial behavior such as donating money, reassuring, or sympathizing with him (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987; Batson, 2010). Through a higher-order interpretation of the individual's affective cues and an ability to imagine what his perspective would be like, you might support these feelings of sympathy with subjective feelings of closeness and understanding, as well as predict to a more accurate degree what he is thinking and feeling, and how best you might help him (Ickes, 1993; Batson, 2012).

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