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Inclusive Altruism Born of Suffering: The Relationship Between Adversity and Prosocial Attitudes and Behavior Toward Disadvantaged Outgroups


concerning this article should be addressed to Johanna Ray Vollhardt, Department of Psychology, Jonas Clark Hall, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610. Electronic mail may be sent to


This article reports the results of 2 studies examining altruism born of suffering (E. Staub & J. R. Vollhardt, 2008). More specifically, we examined inclusive altruism born of suffering, which is directed toward members of disadvantaged outgroups. Drawing on and integrating clinical and social psychological theories, we hypothesized that individuals who had suffered from adverse life events would be more likely to help the outgroups in need than those who had not suffered. This was demonstrated for helpers who had experienced various forms of suffering (interpersonal and group-based harm, natural disasters) and for 2 distinct types of prosocial behavior and attitudes (long-term volunteering and disaster aid) benefiting outgroups within society and from other countries. We also found that prosocial attitudes toward tsunami victims were highest among those who had suffered in a similar way (from natural disasters). Additionally, we examined the underlying social psychological processes and found that empathy and reduced ingroup bias (but not personal distress) mediated the effect (Study 2). Implications for social justice and an empowering view of victims as potential helpers in society are discussed.