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Critically evaluate the role of sympathy and empathy in the study of prosocial behaviour

Uploaded by friar on Dec 05, 2001

Prosocial behaviour is primarily linked to theories and ideas of helping. It is described as the interaction between helpers and recipients (Hewstone & Stroebe, 2001). Prosocial behaviour can be understood as behaviour that has social consequences that can contribute positively to the well being of another person (Wispe, 1972 cited by Malim & Birch, 1998). The consequence of prosocial behaviour is of benefit to others, therefore, this essay will examine the role of sympathy and empathy in the study of behaviour in helping situations. The value and success - of helping - to the individual will be assessed, as well as positive and negative regards to empathy and sympathy. This essay will begin by expanding on the definition of prosocial behaviour already given, before discussing sympathy and empathy in-depth. The essay will also discuss social explanations for helping and show how empathy is related. It will then discuss a theory of empathy and prosocial behaviour, aspects of which should have been touched on throughout. The conclusion will sum up the author's argument, and there will be evidence and examples throughout the essay.

As previously stated, prosocial behaviour is connected to helping. It is encouraged in cultures where extended families are standard - e.g. India - and where there are greater responsibilities but a simpler social structure (Eisenberg & Musen, 1989 cited by Kaplan, 1998). These are generally collectivist societies - which make up about seventy percent of the world's population. Cultures emphasising community rather than individualism are more likely to produce people of a prosocial and conformist nature (Stevenson, 1991 cited by Kaplan, 1998). Those who grow up in rural areas are also more likely to be prosocial than those from urban areas (Eisenberg & Musen, 1989 cited by Kaplan, 1998).

Prosocial behaviour is also voluntary but can be egotistically motivated - ultimately benefiting oneself- or altruistically motivated - benefiting another person (Brehm et al, 1999; Hewstone & Stroebe, 2001). Altruistic behaviour: a refined form of prosocial behaviour: is characterised by empathy and perspective-taking (Hewstone & Stroebe, 2001). Prosocial behaviour will increase with age (Durkin, 1995 & Peterson, 1983 cited by Kaplan, 1998), as people become better at considering others' perspectives (Kaplan, 1998) - empathising more (Eisenberg et al, 1996 cited by Kaplan, 1998). This shows that the role of empathy in studying prosocial behaviour is key.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another (Soanes, 2001; www.infoplease.com). Sympathy...

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Uploaded by:   friar

Date:   12/05/2001

Category:   Psychology

Length:   8 pages (1,762 words)

Views:   1970

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