I feel so sorry! Tapping the joint influence of empathy and personal distress on helping behavior

Pilar Carrera, Luis Oceja, Amparo Caballero, Dolores Munoz, Belen Lopez-Perez, Tamara Ambrona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observing a person in need usually provokes a compound and dynamic emotional experience made up of empathy and personal distress which, in turn, may influence helping behavior. As the exclusive use of rating scales to measure these two emotions does not permit the analysis of their concurrent evolution, we added the analogical emotional scale (AES) in order to measure how these two emotions evolve throughout the emotional experience, from its onset to its conclusion. Therefore, in two studies, the concurrence of empathy and personal distress was induced, both rating scales and AES were used, and participants were given an unexpected opportunity to help. Two effects were found. First, the helping behavior was lower when personal distress prevailed over empathy at the end of the experience (Studies 1 and 2). Second, this “end” effect was coherent with the nature of the different motives evoked by personal distress and empathy—directed to increasing either one’s own welfare (egoistic) or the victim’s welfare (altruism) (Study 2). These results support the usefulness of combining the rating scales and the AES for gaining a better understanding of the nature and behavioral consequences of complex, compound and dynamic emotional experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-345
Number of pages11
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Empathy
  • Personal distress
  • Helping behavior


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