Relation of Sympathy and Personal Distress to Prosocial Behavior: A Multimethod Study

Nancy Eisenberg, Richard Fabes, Paul Miller, Jim Fultz, Rita Shell, Robin M. Mathy, Ray R. Reno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

487 Scopus citations


Assessed sympathy and personal distress with facial and physiological indexes (heart rate) as well as self-report indexes and examined the relations of these various indexes to prosocial behavior for children and adults in an easy escape condition. Heart rate deceleration during exposure to the needy others was associated with increased willingness to help. In addition, adults' reports of sympathy, as well as facial sadness and concerned attention, were positively related to their intention to assist. For children, there was some indication that report of positive affect and facial distress were negatively related to prosocial intentions and behavior, whereas facial concern was positively related to the indexes of prosocial behavior. These findings are interpreted as providing additional, convergent support for the notion that sympathy and personal distress are differentially related to prosocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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