Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Bruce Hunsberger

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The empathy-altruism hypothesis predicts that when social expectation for helping is low, empathy will facilitate, and distress will attenuate, helping (Batson, 1991). Based on this prediction, this study explored the relations among religious fundamentalism, emotional reactions of empathy and distress, and helping behaviour, for differing targets of need. One hundred thirty-three introductory psychology students (38 male, 95 female), of varying levels of religious fundamentalism, read a letter ostensibly written by a person hoping to attend university during the coming academic year. The letter indicated that the author had concerns about coping with the demands of university studies. The potential student was represented as being either a young heterosexual adult or a young homosexual adult. Participants were asked to indicate how likely they would be to offer help to such a student. Emotional reactions to the individual in need were assessed, as were numerous attitudinal and dispositional variables. It was predicted that individuals higher in religious fundamentalism would react with low empathy and high distress to the homosexual target, and hence, helping would be attenuated for this target. While fundamentalism was positively correlated with distress in reaction to the homosexual target, the predicted impact upon helping was not found. Results did indicate, however, that individuals high in fundamentalism were more likely to help when they perceived the target to be similar to themselves, and less likely to help when the target was perceived as dissimilar. Additionally, the helping of those higher in religious fundamentalism was less likely to be mediated by emotion than it was for those lower in religious fundamentalism It is suggested that the helping behaviour of individuals higher in religious fundamentalism may be motivated by a desire to maintain values.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season