Help Giving and Aggression From an Attributional Perspective: Why and When We Help or Retaliate1


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    We would like to thank Bernard Weiner and Ward Struthers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the present manuscript. This research was supported by Grants GR 1882/2-1 and RU 599/3 by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Udo Rudolph, Technische Uni-versität Chemnitz, Institut für Psychologic D-09107 Chemnitz, Germany. E-mail:


Two studies were conducted to test Weiner's (1995) theory of responsibility, both in the domains of prosocial (help giving) and antisocial behavior (aggression). Experiment 1 revealed that for both behavioral domains, a positive relation exists between perceived controllability and anger, whereas a negative relation was found between controllability and sympathy. In addition, help giving is promoted by feelings of sympathy and inhibited by feelings of anger, and the reverse is true for aggression. However, the present results also reveal that for aggression, there is a direct influence of cognitions (perceived controllability) on behavioral reactions, whereas for help giving, cognitions have an indirect effect on behavior, mediated by emotions. Thus, for help giving, thoughts determine what we feel, and feelings determine what we do. In contrast, for aggression, an additional influence of thoughts on actions is present. Experiment 2, in which different scenarios were used, replicated this pattern of results.