SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 136

Date: Apr 2015

Other Sources

@ Other

SPI Funded Paper

Empathy and Motivation for Justice: Cognitive Empathy and Concern, but Not Emotional Empathy, Predict Sensitivity to Injustice for Others

     This paper was published in Social Neuroscience in 2015

    Jean Decety, Keith J. Yoder

    University of Chicago
    University of Chicago

Why do people tend to care for upholding principles of justice? This study examined the association between individual differences in the affective, motivational and cognitive components of empathy, sensitivity to justice, and psychopathy in participants (N 265) who were also asked to rate the permissibility of everyday moral situations that pit personal benefit against moral standards of justice. Counter to common sense, emotional empathy was not associated with sensitivity to injustice for others. Rather, individual differences in cognitive empathy and empathic concern predicted sensitivity to justice for others, as well as the endorsement of moral rules. Psychopathy coldheartedness scores were inversely associated with motivation for justice. Moreover, hierarchical multiple linear regression analysis revealed that self-focused and other-focused orientations toward justice had opposing influences on the permissibility of moral judgments. High scores on psychopathy were associated with less moral condemnation of immoral behavior. Together, these results contribute to a better understanding of the information processing mechanisms underlying justice motivation, and may guide interven- tions designed to foster justice and moral behavior. In order to promote justice motivation, it may be more effective to encourage perspective taking and reasoning to induce concern for others than emphasizing emotional sharing with the misfortune of others.