Cruel to Be Kind: Factors Underlying Altruistic Efforts to Worsen Another Person's Mood

Psychol Sci. 2017 Jul;28(7):862-871. doi: 10.1177/0956797617696312. Epub 2017 May 18.


When aiming to improve another person's long-term well-being, people may choose to induce a negative emotion in that person in the short term. We labeled this form of agent-target interpersonal emotion regulation altruistic affect worsening and hypothesized that it may happen when three conditions are met: (a) The agent experiences empathic concern for the target of the affect-worsening process, (b) the negative emotion to be induced helps the target achieve a goal (e.g., anger for confrontation or fear for avoidance), and (c) there is no benefit for the agent. This hypothesis was tested by manipulating perspective-taking instructions and the goal to be achieved while participants ( N = 140) played a computer-based video game. Participants following other-oriented perspective-taking instructions, compared with those following objective perspective-taking instructions, decided to induce more anger in a supposed fellow participant who was working to achieve a confrontation goal and to induce more fear in a supposed fellow participant who was working to achieve an avoidance goal.

Keywords: altruistic affect worsening; emotion; goal; interpersonal emotion regulation; perspective taking.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Altruism*
  • Anger / physiology
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Video Games
  • Young Adult