Implications of emotion regulation strategies for empathic concern, social attitudes, and helping behavior.

Research paper by Matthew S MS Lebowitz, John F JF Dovidio

Indexed on: 24 Feb '15Published on: 24 Feb '15Published in: Emotion (Washington, D.C.)


Empathic concern-a sense of caring and compassion in response to the needs of others-is a type of emotional response to the plights and misfortunes of others that predicts positive social attitudes and altruistic interpersonal behaviors. One psychological process that has been posited to facilitate empathic concern is the ability to regulate one's own emotions. However, existing research links some emotion-regulation approaches (e.g., suppression) to social outcomes that would appear at odds with empathic concern, such as decreased interpersonal closeness. In the present research, we tested whether relying on suppression to regulate one's emotions would lead to decreases in empathic concern-and related downstream variables, such as negative social attitudes and unwillingness to engage in altruistic behavior-when learning about another person's misfortune. In Study 1, dispositional and instructionally induced suppression was negatively associated with empathic concern, which led to increased stigmatizing attitudes. By contrast, instructing participants to use another emotion-regulation strategy examined for comparison-reappraisal-did not decrease empathic concern, and dispositional reliance on reappraisal was actually positively associated with empathic concern. In Study 2, the findings of Study 1 regarding the effects of habitual use of reappraisal and suppression were replicated, and reliance on suppression was also found to be associated with reluctance to engage in helping behaviors. These findings are situated within the existing literature and employed to shed new light on the interpersonal consequences of intrapersonal emotion-regulation strategies.