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Title: Empathy and helping: effects of racial group membership and cognitive load
Author(s): Landi Meiring, Sivenesi Subramoney, Kevin GF Thomas, Jean Decety and Melike M Fourie
Journal: South African journal of psychology
Year: 2014
Month: November
Volume: 44
Issue: 4
Pages: 426-438
DOI: 10.1177/0081246314530280
File URL: vuams-pubs/Meiring_2014.pdf
Keywords: Cognitive load, empathy, helping behaviour, racial group membership
Abstract: Previous research suggests that (a) racial group membership attenuates empathy, and subsequent prosocial helping behaviour, towards out-group members, and (b) helping behaviour is modified by the potential helper's pool of cognitive resources. It remains unclear, however, how cognitive load influences empathy and helping towards racial in-versus out-group members. We investigated this question using a sample of 30 White females. After completing either a high or a low cognitive-load task, participants viewed video clips depicting distressed White or Black females. We examined cardiovascular responses, self-reported empathic responses, and helping behaviour in response to the clips. We found no effect of racial group membership on empathic responding or on helping behaviour across cognitive-load conditions. However, results suggested that high cognitive load attenuates empathic responding, leading to decreased helping behaviour towards both racial in-and out-group members. Interestingly, a high internal motivation to respond without prejudice was associated with increased helping towards out-group members, but only under conditions of low cognitive load.

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