Investigating the Relation between Empathy and Prosocial Behavior: An Emotion Regulation Framework

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Virginia Tech

Little is known about the complex processes leading to prosocial behavior. However, theories suggests that empathy, empathic responding, and emotion regulation abilities, may all contribute to the presence or absence of prosocial behavior. While theoretical papers demonstrate relationships between these constructs, researchers to date have only focused on small aspects of this complex relationship (e.g., the relationship between sympathy and emotion regulation, the relationship between empathy and prosocial behavior). This study proposed a complex model whereby empathy was both directly related to prosocial behavior and indirectly related to prosocial behavior via sympathy or personal distress. Furthermore, this study proposed an emotion regulation framework for understanding the relation between empathy and prosocial behavior, suggesting that one's emotion regulation abilities would cause a differential presentation of empathic responses, leading to a potential increase or decrease in prosocial behavior. An adult sample was recruited. Analyses were completed using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM). Results indicate that hypothesized model adequately fit the data. All hypothesized associations between variables were significant. However, contrary to the hypothesis, emotion regulation ability did not alter the associations between study constructs. Strengths, limitations, and implications will be discussed.

Empathy, Sympathy, Emotion Regulation, Prosocial Behavior