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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Jeffrey D. Green, PhD


Prosocial behavior research has shown that empathy-elicited compassionate concern often motivates actions performed with an ultimate goal of helping others even at cost to oneself, whereas empathic distress motivates low-cost help with an ultimate goal of helping oneself. Less is known about the motivational outcomes of empathic anger felt when witnessing injustice or harm to others. Though empathic anger predicts third-party compensation and punishment, it is unclear whether this motivation is ultimately self or other-oriented. Three experimental studies examined the empathic anger-altruism hypothesis, that empathic anger evoked when witnessing another being treated unjustly would evoke altruistic motivation to help the victim or punish the offender. In all three studies, empathic anger evoked motivation to punish a third-party offender. In contrast to the empathic anger-altruism hypothesis, Studies 2 and 3 found that witnessing third-party injustice typically led participants to punish an unfair offender, rather than help a third-party victim. Participants were equally likely to choose to punish an unfair delegator when witnessing third party unfairness as when they were personally treated unfairly. The lack of willingness to help may be explained by low empathic concern evoked when witnessing a stranger be treated unfairly, compared to when remembering or imagining a close other be treated unfairly. Study 3 also found that motivation to punish the unfair offender was not altruistic, as participants overwhelmingly chose to self-compensate or avoid a decision when their response decision was costly. Implications for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying empathic anger, and the fundamental self or other-oriented nature of the emotional response, are discussed.


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