Altruistic personality in the context of the empathy–altruism hypothesis



In this study the influence of the altruistic personality in general and social responsibility in particular on prosocial behaviour were investigated in the context of the empathy–altruism hypothesis. In an experiment 56 female participants had an opportunity to help a person in distress. In this setting, ease of escape without helping was manipulated. In addition, on the basis of their self-reports of situation-specific emotions, participants were divided into an empathic-concern and a personal-distress group. The results of the 2 (ease of escape) × 2 (predominant emotional response) design were in agreement with the empathy–altruism hypothesis. Further results indicated that in the easy-escape condition an altruistic motivation prevailed, whereas in the difficult-escape condition an egoistic motivation was more dominant. Besides the full scale, two subscales of social responsibility were formed: Moral Fulfilment of the Justified Expectations of Others and Adherence to Social Prescriptions. The full social responsibility scale was significantly related to helpfulness only in the difficult-escape condition. Further analyses including the subscales showed that the component Moral Fulfilment of the Justified Expectations of Others correlated positively with helping in the easy-escape condition. Results were interpreted as showing that specific profiles of personality variables are associated with helpfulness in the easy-escape and difficult-escape conditions. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.