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The role of perceived similarity in supportive responses to victims of negative life events


The authors examined whether participants' perceived similarity to an ostensible victim of a negative life event influenced their supportiveness during a live interaction. Two competing models were considered: (a) increased similarity would be associated with increased supportiveness through attraction to the target and (b) increased similarity would be associated with decreased supportiveness through anxiety (due to heightened vulnerability). Participants (N = 241) met individually with a confederate posing as a cancer patient. Reactions were assessed, including verbal and nonverbal behaviors, both before and after the interaction, by participants themselves and by observers of the interaction. Results supported a model based on the classic similarity/attraction paradigm: Perceived similarity indirectly predicted participant-reported supportiveness/warmth and smiling through its relationship to attraction. Results extend the literature on similarity and attraction to the stress and coping arena and suggest that emphasizing perceived similarities to victims would be beneficial.

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