Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Ty Partridge


Whether one helps due to altruistic empathy or egoistic motivators has been debated in the social psychological literature most recently with the Felt-Oneness (Cialdini et al., 1997) and the Empathy-Altruism (Batson 1991) hypotheses. For strangers, it appears that helping intentions are predicted by felt-oneness, except in circumstances in which a bystander feels nurturance toward a target, in which case empathy is found to predict helping. For close relationships, however, empathy predicts helping, particularly in high need situations. Antipathy has been presented as a possible confound as well (Batson et al., 1997), but has not been tested. The present study took a bioecological systems approach (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006) in creating a model which includes severity of need, relational closeness, nurturance and antipathy as contextual factors in the prediction of altruistic empathy or egoistic motivations (oneness, personal distress and sadness) and intent to help. Additionally the model included person effects, with the developmental factors of temperament, socialization history and level of moral development, and the dispositional factors of dispositional empathy, personal distress, perspective-taking, and helpfulness. A path analysis with good model fit indicated that development influences prosocial dispositions. These dispositions, in addition to the contextual influences, predict outcomes of empathy, oneness, negative affect and intent to help. Follow up analyses were conducted to test the interaction of the contextual variables. There were significant main effects and interactions between these situational variables in predicting emotional response, oneness and intent-to-help. Relationship Closeness and Severity of Need were important factors, replicating previous findings (Cialdini et al. 1997), whereas nurturance is only important as a moderator. Antipathy, and its interactions with Severity of Need, is also an influential factor which does not appear to be a confound with oneness as previously suggested (Batson et al., 1997). Both felt-oneness and empathy significantly predict intent-to-help, within the bioecology of the person effects and context. Thus, support for both hypotheses was found by taking a bioecological approach, in addition to demonstrating the importance of including the effects of the individual and time when studying prosocial behavior.