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Evaluations of empathizers depend on the target of empathy.

  • Author(s): Wang, Y Andre;
  • Todd, Andrew R
  • et al.

Psychological research on empathy typically focuses on understanding its effects on empathizers and empathic targets. Little is known, however, about the effects of empathy beyond its dyadic context. Taking an extradyadic perspective, we examined how third-party observers evaluate empathizers. Seven experiments documented that observers' evaluations of empathizers depend on the target of empathy. Empathizers (vs. nonempathizers) of a stressful experience were respected/liked more when the empathic target was positive (e.g., children's hospital worker), but not when the target was negative (e.g., White supremacist; Experiments 1 and 2). Empathizers were respected/liked more when responding to a positive target who disclosed a positive experience (i.e., a personal accomplishment), but less when responding to a negative target who disclosed a positive experience (Experiment 3). These effects were partly, but not solely, attributable to the positivity of empathic responses (Experiment 4). Expressing empathy (vs. condemnation) toward a negative target resulted in less respect/liking when the disclosed experience was linked to the source of target valence (i.e., stress from White supremacist job; Experiments 5 through 7), but more respect/liking when the experience was unrelated to the source of target valence (i.e., stress from cancer; Experiment 7). Overall, empathizers were viewed as warmer, but to a lesser extent when responding to a negative target. These findings highlight the importance of considering the extradyadic impact of empathy and suggest that although people are often encouraged to empathize with disliked others, they are not always favored for doing so. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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