Reinterpreting the empathy-altruism relationship: when one into one equals oneness

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1997 Sep;73(3):481-94.


Important features of the self-concept can be located outside of the individual and inside close or related others. The authors use this insight to reinterpret data previously said to support the empathy-altruism model of helping, which asserts that empathic concern for another results in selflessness and true altruism. That is, they argue that the conditions that lead to empathic concern also lead to a greater sense of self-other overlap, raising the possibility that helping under these conditions is not selfless but is also directed toward the self. In 3 studies, the impact of empathic concern on willingness to help was eliminated when oneness--a measure of perceived self-other overlap--was considered. Path analyses revealed further that empathic concern increased helping only through its relation to perceived oneness, thereby throwing the empathy-altruism model into question. The authors suggest that empathic concern affects helping primarily as an emotional signal of oneness.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis