Intergroup Empathy: Beyond Boundaries
Richins, Matthew Thomas
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Individuals feel more empathy for those in their group (i.e., ingroup members) and less for those who are not (i.e., outgroup members). But evidence suggests that empathy is not merely selective to the other’s group, rather it fluctuates according to how the other’s group is perceived by the individual. This project was developed to investigate whether individuals truly differentiate between outgroups when it comes to empathy. Across several studies, I presented participants with images depicting others receiving physically painful stimulations. The other person in each case was a member of the ingroup or one of two outgroups, one of which was more of a competitive threat to the ingroup. In Study 3, I found that participants exhibited an ingroup bias, that is, greater levels of empathy to images of ingroup pain, compared to outgroup pain. In Study 4, I found that empathic responses also varied between the two outgroups: Empathy was significantly lower when targets were from the outgroup that was perceived as more of a competitive threat to the ingroup, than the other outgroup. This provided the first evidence that beliefs about outgroups, and not merely the ingroup-outgroup distinction, modulates empathic processing. I also investigated the extent to which threats that are incidental to the ingroup context affect empathy. Across two studies I showed reliable evidence that priming incidental feelings of fear was sufficient to elicit intergroup bias in self-reported empathy, specifically against the outgroup, i.e., reduced empathy for outgroup targets, rather than increased empathy for ingroup targets. Finally, I investigated the extent to which my findings could be accounted for by individual differences. In a series of ‘mini meta-analyses’, I provide evidence that in an intergroup context a shared group membership confers an empathic advantage when responding to a target’s pain, regardless of one’s sex or their scores on a measure of trait empathy.
Defence Science and Technology Laboratories
PhD in Psychology