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Anger motivates volunteers as much as sympathy

06 May 2014 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Anger can be just as effective at motivating people to volunteer as sympathy.

This is one of the findings of research by Professor Robert Bringle and his students Ashley Hedgepath and Elizabeth Wall from Appalachian State University who present their findings at the British Psychological Society annual conference today, Wednesday 7 May 2014, at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

Professor Bringle explained: “Although there are many reasons why individuals help, empathy is prominent. Empathy occurs when an individual has a similar response to a suffering person and this is usually sadness. Empathic sadness motivates a person to help in order to alleviate the other person’s suffering and to alleviate one’s own discomfort.”

“This research focused on circumstances when empathy elicits anger. Whereas anger is usually seen as evoking an aggressive response, we wanted to anaylse empathic anger as a basis for helping. This seems most likely to occur when the attribution is made about the unfairness of the circumstances that caused the victim’s suffering.”

Two questionnaire studies focused on the nature of those reporting empathic anger using a new measure, the “Revised Empathic Anger” scale. In Study 1 (involving 132 participants) found that those scoring high on empathic anger were publically spirited and more likely to support community projects and organisations as a way to affect change rather than charitable volunteering. Study 2 (involving 152 participants) found those reporting high empathic anger were not aggressive people, but were concerned and altruistic individuals who rejected group-based discrimination and inequality among groups.

Professor Bringle added: “This research adds a new dimension to motives for volunteering. Empathic anger is probably a more extreme or intense motive than others that have been described or studied in the previous research on volunteering and prosocial behavior.”

“By developing our understanding of empathic anger we can better appreciate why some volunteers are motivated to assist certain social causes. The new scale provides opportunities for future research to study the nature of empathic anger, its development, and it journey across time.”

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