Is empathy always viewed as morally good?

Dr. Y. Andre Wang, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Mentor: Dr. Y. Andre Wang

Assistant Professor of Psychology


Project Description

Empathy is widely celebrated and advocated as virtuous. Yet a growing body of research shows a bias in empathy: People prefer to empathize with those belonging to their own social group (vs. those belonging to other social groups). Is empathy inherently biased and morally flawed? In this research, we will explore an alternative possibility: Bias in empathy is not inherent in empathy per se, but in what people believe about empathy. That is, people might choose to empathize with some individuals but withhold empathy from others, because they believe this is the right thing to do (e.g., empathizing with pro-vaxxeres but not empathizing with anti-vaxxers; Wang & Todd, 2021). We will test this possibility in a study where we ask participants about their beliefs about empathy—specifically, when, for what, and for whom empathy is good versus bad. We will also explore whether these beliefs predict moral judgments of empathizers and impact decisions to empathize. With my guidance, you will be involved in literature review, study design, and data collection, and you will also conduct data analysis that involve open-ended responses, correlations, and examining patterns of responses to vignettes and hypothetical scenarios using regression models. By understanding what beliefs people hold about the morality of empathy, we can achieve a better understanding of the motivational processes that drive empathy (or the lack thereof). Depending on your interests, you can also take on other projects in the lab (e.g., why people think racial bias in romantic attraction is “just a preference”).

Mentorship Statement

Mentoring is one of my favorite things about my job as a professor. I am excited to foster in my mentee: intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, the ability to acquire academic and professional skills, and a belief of seeing themselves in the work that they do. During SROP, I will meet one-on-one with you weekly to identify progress goals and action plans, solve problems you might encounter, and connect your work to the bigger research picture. Depending on the progress of the project, you can expect to receive training on research skills such as synthesizing research literature, programming surveys, managing data, analyzing data, and presenting findings. My ultimate goal is to help you find what your interests are and pave the way toward them.

Project ID 734