Agreeableness, empathy, and helping: a person x situation perspective

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007 Oct;93(4):583-99. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.93.4.583.


This research program explored links among prosocial motives, empathy, and helping behavior. Preliminary work found significant relations among components of self-reported empathy and personality (N = 223). In Study 1, the authors examined the generality of prosocial behavior across situations and group memberships of victims (N = 622). In Study 2, empathic focus and the victim's outgroup status were experimentally manipulated (N = 87). Study 3 (N = 245) replicated and extended Study 2 by collecting measures of prosocial emotions before helping. In Study 4 (N = 244), empathic focus and cost of helping as predictors of helping behavior were experimentally manipulated. Overall, prosocial motivation is linked to (a) Agreeableness as a dimension of personality, (b) proximal prosocial cognition and motives, and (c) helping behavior across a range of situations and victims. In persons low in prosocial motivation, when costs of helping are high, efforts to induce empathy situationally can undermine prosocial behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Personality
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Desirability
  • Social Identification