Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Donald Morgenson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This research examined the relative contributions of situational (state) and dispositional (trait) empathy in the motivation of helping behaviour. Forty W.L.U. undergraduates who volunteered from an original sample of 193 participated in a study in which state and trait empathy were crossed in a 2 X 2 between-subjects design. State empathy was manipulated by perspective taking instructions and trait empathy via a median split of the participants’ Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy scores (filled out previously). Under the guise of an emotional reaction study they were asked to help another student by promising to participate in further research. Both this promise and a count indicating whether each participant came back to fulfill the promise were the helping dependent measures. Emotional change variables were also analyzed. The results show that trait empathy was the only variable to affect helping or the emotional reaction to the situation. Participants higher in trait empathy promised more time to the victim and also showed more personal distress reaction to the need situation than did those low in trait empathy. There was no effect of state empathy on either the helping or emotional reaction measures. Also, neither state nor trait empathy could predict whether an individual will return to fulfill a promise to help. Personal distress reactions predicted helping behaviour in a regression analysis, but emotional concern reactions did not. The results are discussed with reference to previous research and in light of the fact that an unique sample may have contributed to the non-replication of previous findings.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season