The empathy-prospect model and the choice to help

Julie Anne Lee*, J. Keith Murnighan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This paper presents a model of the cognitive processes that precede decisions to help another person. The empathy-prospect model predicts that potential helpers make decisions in much the same way as decision makers in other contexts do (i.e., they evaluate prospects) and that perceptions of need and the empathic reactions and intentions to help that they generate will be stronger for people observing losses rather than gains. The model also predicts that intentions to help should increase when (a) the predicament is serious, (b) money is not involved, or (c) help entails few costs for the potential altruist. The results from 2 experiments provide clear support for these predictions. The findings suggest that (a) the gains or losses of another person contribute to perceptions of that person's needs and feelings of empathy, (b) empathy is the primary proximal determinant of prosocial motivations, and (c) potential losses that are serious accentuate altruistic reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)816-839
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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