Social Justice Research

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 61–78

Altruism Behind Bars: Sharing, Justice, Perspective Taking and Empathy Among Inmates


DOI: 10.1007/s11211-012-0149-8

Cite this article as:
Gummerum, M. & Hanoch, Y. Soc Just Res (2012) 25: 61. doi:10.1007/s11211-012-0149-8


Anecdotal stories suggest that inmates engage in altruistic acts to partially compensate for past criminal behaviour. Little research has investigated this phenomenon. In this study, we used the dictator game—a measure developed in experimental economics—to assess inmates’ and non-inmates’ altruistic behaviour. Furthermore, we examined whether personal belief in a just world (BJW), perspective taking and empathy predicted altruistic behaviour. Our sample was comprised of 50 male inmates and 50 age-matched non-inmates. Results showed that inmates displayed more altruistic behaviour and higher empathy compared to non-inmates. In addition, in inmates altruistic behaviour was positively predicted by BJW and perspective taking, whereas in non-inmates altruistic behaviour was positively predicted by empathy. Theoretical and practical implications are further discussed.


AltruismBelief in a just worldEmpathyPerspective takingInmates

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK