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Empathy and universal values explicated by the empathy-altruism hypothesis

Journal article
Authors Björn N. Persson
Petri Kajonius
Published in Journal of Social Psychology
Volume 156
Pages 610-619
ISSN 0022-4545
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 610-619
Language en
Keywords Empathy, empathy-altruism hypothesis, personality traits, values
Subject categories Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology), Social Psychology


© 2016 Taylor & Francis. Research reports that empathy is on the decline in present-day society, together with an increasing trend in self-enhancing values. Based on the empathy-altruism hypothesis, we investigated whether these constructs are interlinked by analyzing the relationships between emotional and cognitive empathy and 10 universal values. In the first study, using a middle-aged U.S. sample, the results showed that empathy was strongly and positively related to altruistic values and negatively to self-enhancing values in a pattern that aligned with the empathy-altruism hypothesis. In a second confirmation study, these findings were replicated and extended, while also controlling for the Big Five personality traits, to discount that empathy is only captured by basic personality. Only emotional empathy, not cognitive empathy, accounted for up to 18% additional variance in altruistic values, which further confirmed the emphasis on feelings, as postulated by the empathy-altruism hypothesis.

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