Beyond prosocial motivations to empathize

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This study aimed to re-evaluate the lay assumption that empathic concern is entirely guided by prosocial motivations. To this end, the Empathic Concern Motivations Scale was created to measure the magnitude of one’s prosocial and/or antisocial motivations to manifest empathic concern for another person. Participants reported both prosocial and antisocial motivations for empathic concern, and these motivation types were uncorrelated, independent constructs. The degree of prosociality of participants’ motivations varied by target types, such that more prosocial motivations were reported for ingroup targets while more antisocial motivations were reported for outgroup targets. Responses to the scale were subsequently compared to established measures of empathy (the Interpersonal Reactivity Index) and antisocial personality (the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised). These comparisons indicated that the relationship between motivations to empathize and the IRI depended on valence of motivation, but not target type, such that prosocial motivations were positively correlated with IRI’s measurement of empathy. As for psychopathic personality traits, motivation reports depended on both the valence of motivation (i.e. prosocial or antisocial) and the target of one’s empathic concern, such that PPI-R scores were positively correlated with antisocial motivations and uncorrelated with prosocial motivations. Furthermore, those higher in psychopathic traits did not show the heightened prosocial motivations towards ingroup targets, as was demonstrated across the sample more generally. These findings support a broader conceptualization of empathic concern that considers the potential for more than just prosocial antecedents, while reiterating the importance of the empathizer-target relationship.
Empathy, Motivation, Prosocial, Empathic concern, Psychopathic traits