Does Empathy Lead to Anything More Than Superficial Helping? Comment on Batson et al. (1997)

Steven Neuberg, Robert B. Cialdini, Stephanie L. Brown, Carol Luce, Brad J. Sagarin, Brian P. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


To properly test the hypothesis that empathy-associated helping is altruistic, one needs to (a) consider plausible nonaltruistic alternatives for the observed empathy-helping effects, (b) validly and reliably measure these nonaltruistic alternatives, and (c) examine whether the empathy-helping relationship remains after removing the effects of the full complement of reasonable nonaltruistic alternatives. C. D. Batson, K. Sager, E. Garst, M. Kang, K. Rubchinsky, and K. Dawson (1997) failed to meet these criteria. New data, and reanalyses of existing data, bolster the case that self-other overlap -a nonaltruistic motivator - underlies the association between empathy and costly helping. At best, empathy per se leads to superficial helping. In a postscript, the authors comment briefly on C. D. Batson's (1997) reply to this comment and, given his remarks, speculate as to whether the empathy-altruism formulation is even relevant to understanding meaningful forms of help.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-516
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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