May 6, 2014; Science Daily

An article in Science Daily points to a piece of research which finds that anger may motivate people to volunteer just as much as sympathy.

Robert Bringle, along with his students from Appalachian State University, Ashley Hedgepath and Elizabeth Wall, performed the research. According to Bringle:

“Although there are many reasons why individuals help, empathy is prominent. Empathy occurs when an individual has a similar response to a suffering person and this is usually sadness. Empathic sadness motivates a person to help in order to alleviate the other person’s suffering and to alleviate one’s own discomfort.

“This research focused on circumstances when empathy elicits anger. Whereas anger is usually seen as evoking an aggressive response, we wanted to analyze empathic anger as a basis for helping. This seems most likely to occur when the attribution is made about the unfairness of the circumstances that caused the victim’s suffering.”

The study used what they called a Revised Empathic Anger scale in two studies. The first study, which had 132 participants, found that those who scored high on empathic anger were public-spirited and more likely to support community projects and organizations as a way to effect change rather than a way to help charitably. The second study, which had 152 participants, found that participants who scored high on empathic anger were not aggressive, but concerned and altruistic individuals who objected to discrimination and inequality.

Professor Bringle added:

“This research adds a new dimension to motives for volunteering. Empathic anger is probably a more extreme or intense motive than others that have been described or studied in the previous research on volunteering and pro-social behavior.

“By developing our understanding of empathic anger we can better appreciate why some volunteers are motivated to assist certain social causes. The new scale provides opportunities for future research to study the nature of empathic anger, its development, and its journey across time.”

—Ruth McCambridge