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The main assumption of Batson’s empathy altruism hypothesis are that altruistic behaviour can be explained through feelings of empathy. Empathy would involve a person experiencing the same emotional state as another person’s situation or state. An example of this is feeling sad when another person is feeling sad. Batson also stated that when feelings of empathy are experienced other feelings of sorrow, concern and compassion will also be felt. According to this hypothesis if a person were observing another person experiencing distress the observer would feel empathy and would then be motivated to help.
Batson also stated that empathy consists of three components. These are ;- perspective taking – the ability to understand the other persons viewpoint, personal distress – the ability to feel sadness when the other person is experiencing sadness and empathetic concern. For empathy to occur perspective taking has to occur. Batson proposed that any help we do offer will be egoistic and will be purely offered in order to diminish our own personal distress.
Batson et al (1981) asked female university students to watch up to ten trials while a confederate (posing as a student) received random electric shocks. In order to produce emotional reactions, participants were told that were either very alike to the person receiving the electric shock – the high empathy condition or very different – the low empathy condition. Half of the participants in both the low and high empathy condition were told that they could leave after watching two trials. Then, after the two trials the confederate pretended to become distressed and told the students about a childhood fear of electric shocks.
The participants then had to chose whether to take the students which would show empathetic concern position or walk away from the experiment showing a relief in personal distress. The results showed that the students who were free to leave the experiment after two trials were more likely to stay and take the place of the student who was afraid of electric shocks. In the personal distress participants group, the participants who were most likely to offer to stay were those who had been told to watch all ten trials. Most participants in this condition tended to leave and relieve personal distress.
A) Critically evaluate this explanation of altruism (12)
Smith et al (1989) proposed the empathetic joy hypothesis, that we help another because empathy leads to shared feelings of joy. However, Batson et al.(1981) found those lowest in empathetic concern were keenest to hear about their successful altruistic act, supporting the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Recent research by Roker et al in 1998 found that British youngsters show a high level of altruistic behaviour which is often unknown to their parents.
It has also been argued that people who help others only do so in order to avoid social disapproval which may arise as a result of not helping another person in need. Fultz et al in 1986 found that when negative social evaluations were removed from a situation people did not seem concerned about disapproval of others which does not explain why empathic concern motivated people to help.
Batson et all (1988) devised an experiment where a confederate appeared as if they couldn’t carry on receiving electric shocks. The observers in the experiment were told that they could help the confederate if they offered to take the confederates place and receive the remainder of electric shocks if they performed well in a maths test. Half of the group were told that the test was easy and the other half were told it was difficult. The researchers predicted that participants who had high empathy levels would take the test and would try hard in it so that they could take the place of the confederate and ease her suffering, and that the other half of the group would use the test as a reason to not help the confederate because they could argue it was too hard or that they would not pass the test. Batson found that in the condition where the participants had been told that the test was easy there was little difference in the offers of help. In the condition where participants were told the test was difficult there was a large difference in the percentage of parts. Who offered to help.
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