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Attentional Mechanisms in the Generation of Sympathy

Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 297-306, June 2009

10 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2010  

Stephan Dickert

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Date Written: June 1, 2009

Abstract

Empathic responses, such as sympathy towards others, are a key ingredient in the decision to provide help to those in need. The determinants of empathic responses are usually thought to be the vividness, similarity, and proximity of the victim. However, recent research highlights the role that attention plays in the generation of feelings. We expanded on this idea by investigating whether sympathy depends on cognitive mechanisms such as attention. In two studies we found that sympathy responses were lower and reaction times were longer when targets were presented with distractors. In addition, online sympathy judgments that allow attentional focusing on a target lead to greater affective responses than judgments made from memory. We conclude that attention is an ingredient in the generation of sympathy, and discuss implications for research on prosocial behaviour and the interaction between attention and emotions.

Keywords: Emotions, Attention, Pro-Social Behavior.

Suggested Citation

Dickert, Stephan and Slovic, Paul, Attentional Mechanisms in the Generation of Sympathy (June 1, 2009). Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 297-306, June 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1592459

Stephan Dickert (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany

Paul Slovic

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)
541-485-2403 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

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