Masters Thesis

Empathy and Gender as Moderating Variables in Moral Decision-making

The current study sought to examine if pictures representative of a moral scenario would increase empathic responses and subsequently affect an individual’s level of moral support for an individual in need. University undergraduates evaluated scenarios opposite of the typical deontological versus utilitarian paradigm. Scenarios within the current study examined a participant’s level of moral support to help an individual in need with either a relatively high or low cost of causing harm to others. Each participant rated how RIGHT and how WRONG they felt an action would be given each scenario (bivariate measurement) with ratings ranging from 0 to 5 on each scale. the analysis focused on whichever scale (“key questions”) favored the interests of the person (or animal) at issue. Participants were then asked to complete the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) to measure self-reported affective and cognitive components of trait empathy. Results from the 2 x 2 Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) indicated no significant difference between the picture and no picture groups. Females showed significantly higher ratings of moral support and higher trait empathy than males. However, trait empathy did not correlate with these ratings. Thus, increased trait empathy among females was not responsible for increased ratings of moral support. Instead, a contributing factor may be stronger tend and-befriend behavioral dispositions in females that could function independently of current feelings of empathy. Oxytocin secretion and socialization of gender roles would help explain stronger tend-and-befriend behavioral dispositions in females than males.


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