Immorality from Empathy-Induced Altruism

Abstract: Results of 2 Experiments supported the proposal that empathy-induced altruism can lead one to act in a way that violates the moral principle of justice. In each experiment, participants were asked to make an allocation decision that affected the welfare of other individuals. Participants who were not induced to feel empathy tended to act in accord with a principle of justice, participants who were induced to feel empathy were significantly more likely to violate this principle, allocating resources preferentially to the person for whom empathy was felt. High-empathy participants who showed partiality agreed with other participants in perceiving partiality to be less fair and less moral (Experiment 1). Overall, results suggested that empathy-induced altruism and the desire to uphold a moral principle of justice are independent prosocial motives that sometimes cooperate but sometimes conflict. Implications of this independence are discussed.

Source Info

Immorality From Empathy-Induced Altruism: When Compassion and Justice Conflict
C. Daniel Batson, Tricia R. Klein, Lori Highberger, Laura L. Shaw

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
1995, Vol 68, No 6, 1042-1054


Empathy, Ethics, Psychology