The Scarecrow and the Tin Man: The Vicissitudes of Human Sympathy and Caring

  • Loewenstein G
  • Small D
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Abstract

Why do some victims elicit outpourings of sympathy from those who are unaffected, while others do not? The authors propose a theoretical framework for making sense of the vicissitudes of sympathy based on the interaction between two qualitatively differ- ent mental processes. One, which the authors term “sympathy,” is caring but immature and irrational. The other process, which the authors term “deliberation,” is rational but uncaring. After proposing a framework for how these two factors interact, the authors first discuss a variety of factors that affect the strength of sympathy, including whether one is in the same state as the victim, one’s past and vicarious experiences, proximity, similarity, vividness, and newness. Next, the authors discuss factors that affect the relative influence of deliberation. The framework helps to integrate a wide range of disparate experimental findings and provides a possible resolution to parallel debates taking place in psychology and economics over the nature of altruism.

Author-supplied keywords

  • altruism
  • emotion
  • empathy
  • helping behavior
  • sympathy

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Authors

  • George Loewenstein

  • Deborah A. Small

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