Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 110–119 | Cite as

When the victim is one among others: Empathy, awareness of others and motivational ambivalence

  • Luis OcejaEmail author
  • Tamara Ambrona
  • Belén López-Pérez
  • Sergio Salgado
  • Marisol Villegas
Original Paper


Feeling empathy for one person in need while being aware of others may increase the motivational ambivalence between the motive of helping the one and the motive of helping the others, and such motivational ambivalence may reduce the helping directed to the person in need. To test these hypotheses we carried out three studies in which participants were faced with a real case of a child in need. In Study 1, empathy, awareness of others and motivational ambivalence were allowed to occur naturally and subsequently measured. In Study 2, empathy and awareness of others were experimentally manipulated, and motivational ambivalence measured. In Study 3, we tested how empathy and motivational ambivalence influenced an actual helping decision. Taken together, the results supported our two hypotheses. The present research offers insight into processes not previously considered in the research, but which may influence decisions about assistance to others in need.


Empathy Awareness of others Motivational ambivalence Prosocial behavior 



This research was supported by PSI2008-04849 (Spanish Ministry of Education and Science). The authors extend their gratitude to Pilar Carrera, Eric Stocks and two reviewers for their helpful comments on a first version of this article, Carlos Oceja for his assistance in editing the stimuli used in Study 2, and Susana Sariego and David Weston for their work in the preparation of the English version.


  1. Batson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  2. Batson, C. D., Batson, J. G., Todd, R. M., Brummett, B. H., Shaw, L. L., & Aldeguer, C. M. R. (1995). Empathy and the collective good: Caring for one of the others in a social dilemma. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 619–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batson, C. D., Chang, J., & Orr, R. (2002). Empathy, attitudes, and action: Can feeling for a member of a stigmatized group motivate one to help the group? Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 1656–1666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dovidio, J. F., Allen, J. L., & Schroeder, D. A. (1990). Specificity of empathy-induced helping: Evidence for altruistic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 249–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dovidio, J. F., Piliavin, J. A., Schroeder, D. A., & Penner, L. A. (2006). The social psychology of prosocial behavior. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  6. Fong, C. T., & Tiedens, L. Z. (2002). Dueling experiences and dual ambivalences: Emotional and motivational ambivalence of women in high status positions. Motivation and Emotion, 26, 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hamilton, D. L., & Sherman, S. J. (1996). Perceiving persons and groups. Psychological Review, 103, 336–355.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Hoffman, M. L. (1990). Empathy and justice motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 14, 151–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hoffman, M. L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Implications for caring and justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Jonas, K., Broemer, P., & Diehl, M. (2000). Attitudinal ambivalence. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology, Vol. 11 (pp. 35–74). London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Kahneman, D., & Ritov, I. (1994). Determinants of stated willingness to pay for public goods: A study in the headline method. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 9, 5–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kogut, T., & Ritov, I. (2005a). The “identified victim” effect: An identified group, or just a single individual? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 18, 157–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kogut, T., & Ritov, I. (2005b). The singularity effect of identified victims in separate and joint evaluations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97, 106–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kogut, T., & Ritov, I. (2007). “One of us”: Outstanding willingness to help save a single identified compatriot. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 104, 150–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Bar-On, N., & Ein-Dor, T. (2010). The pushes and pulls of close relationships: Attachment insecurities and relational ambivalence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 450–468.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Oceja, L., & Jiménez, I. (2007). Beyond egoism and group identity: Empathy toward the other and awareness of others in a social dilemma. The Spanish Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 369–379.Google Scholar
  17. Oceja, L., Stocks, E., Ambrona, T., López-Pérez, B., Salgado, S., & Villegas, M. (2010). When the individual is one among others: Moderating the threat to the collective good produced by empathy-induced altruism. Under review.Google Scholar
  18. Oceja, L., Stocks, E., & Lishner, D. (in press). Congruence between the target in need and the recipient of aid: The one-among-others effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Accepted for publication.Google Scholar
  19. Rutchick, A. M., Hamilton, D. L., & Sack, J. D. (2008). Antecedents of entitativity in categorically and dynamically construed groups. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schelling, T. C. (1968). The life you save may be your own. In S. Chase (Ed.), Problems in public expenditure analysis. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute.Google Scholar
  21. Sibicky, M., Schroeder, D., & Dovidio, J. F. (1995). Empathy and helping: Considering the consequences of intervention. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 16, 435–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Slovic, P. (2007). If I look at the mass I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide. Judgment and Decision Making, 2, 79–95.Google Scholar
  23. Slovic, S., & Slovic, P. (2004). Numbers and nerves: Toward an affective apprehension of environmental risk. Whole Terrain, 13, 14–18.Google Scholar
  24. Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). Helping a victim or helping the victim: Altruism and identifiability. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 26, 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Small, D. A., Loewenstein, G., & Slovic, P. (2007). Sympathy and callousness: The impact of deliberative thought on donations to identifiable and statistical victims. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 102, 143–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Susskind, J., Maurer, K., Thakkar, V., Hamilton, D. L., & Sherman, J. W. (1999). Perceiving individuals and groups: Expectancies, dispositional inferences, and causal attributions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 181–191.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Thompson, M. M., Zanna, M. P., & Griffin, D. W. (1995). Let’s not be indifferent about attitudinal ambivalence. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedent and consequences (pp. 361–386). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis Oceja
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tamara Ambrona
    • 1
  • Belén López-Pérez
    • 1
  • Sergio Salgado
    • 1
  • Marisol Villegas
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Psicología Social y Metodología, C/Pavlov 6Ciudad Universitaria CantoblancoMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations