The influence of perceived suffering and vulnerability on the experience of pity

Authors

  • Anton J. Dijker

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Health Education and Promotion, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
    • Department of Health Education and Promotion, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.
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Abstract

Pity is viewed as a function of two classes of perceived stimulus features and their interaction: the extent to which a person (when still healthy and nonsuffering) is perceived as vulnerable to physical harm, and the perceived intensity of his or her current suffering. Consistent with this view, Experiment 1 (N = 141) showed that participants' pity reactions to photographs of persons expressing pain were influenced by age-related, sex-related, and postural vulnerability cues. Experiment 2 (N = 258) manipulated both target's vulnerability by varying the muscularity of the same adult male stimulus and the intensity of suffering. As predicted, an interaction of vulnerability and suffering was found. Implications for the study of helping behavior are discussed. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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