A study was conducted to provide a better understanding as to why some people behave altruistically and help a victim in an aggressive situation while others do not. In addition to that, the study looked at how certain variables such as socioeconomic status (SES) and alcohol/drug use can change one’s perception to feel less empathy for a victim. The empathy-altruism hypothesis helped explain how levels of empathy influence altruistic behavior after witnessing an aggressive act, while the cognitive neoassociation theory explained why an altruistic act can include helping a victim through retaliation on a perpetrator. Fifty-one College of Wooster students ages 18-22 was anonymously and voluntarily gathered through email and the SONA system. They were asked to complete three questionnaires online. The questionnaires consisted of a demographics questionnaire, Affective and Cognitive Trait Empathy Questionnaire, and a Trait Empathic Anger and Aggression Questionnaire. The results revealed that there was no main effect between SES and alcohol use on the dependent variable empathy. Moreover, there were no significant results with the correlation for empathy and helping a victim, as well as, the correlation between empathy and aggression against the perpetrator. However, a relationship was found between the dispositional and situational variable of empathy, as well as anger and aggression. Further research includes gaining a wider perspective by recruiting more candidates outside of a liberal arts college and looking at background variables of the perpetrator to see if it would incite empathy for the aggressor.

Keywords: empathy-altruism hypothesis, cognitive neoassociation theory, empathy, aggression, altruistic behavior


Gillund, Gary




Social and Behavioral Sciences

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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