Personality and Empathy in Pro-social Behavior

The Relationship between Personality and Empathy on Prosocial Behavior

Background of study

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Prosocial behavior is explained as the action to be performed to benefit others rather than self (Twenge, Ciarocco, Bartels, Baumeister & DeWall, 2007). It plays an important role in our social lives where it is carried out when letting others feel comfortable and being helpful. It can be performed while helping strangers, friends or family members. There are several ways to perform prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering, charitable giving, blood donation informal assistance and others. According to Merrill (2006), volunteerism is defined as the setting, value and scope of work of benefiting others that are performing over the limitations of employment. Volunteerism often means helping others is benefiting others rather than self; this action shows sympathy of self to others. By doing charity, it may help the people who are suffering from poverty or disasters. Donation is also one of the prosocial behaviors that benefit others physically such as money donation, organ donation and blood donation.

Empathy used to be seen as an important factor for creating moral thinking and behavior (Einolf, 2008). According to Zinn (1993), empathy can be defined as the practice of realizing an individual’s negative experience by sharing that experience when keeping the observing gesture. Most of the people may feel better if others show empathy to them. Moreover, it acts as an important key in therapeutic relationship which is letting others to feel secure, talk freely and accept the new insight development and healthier ways of communicating to others (Hansell & Damour, 2005). Besides, prosocial behaviors can maintain good quality friendship especially children (Poorthuis, Thomaes, Denissen, Aken & Castro, 2012). Example, when the children are playing at the playground and they pushing each other while they are sitting on the swing.

Personality is also one of the main concerns contributing to prosocial behaviors. Wilkowski, Robinson and Meier (2006) claimed that the individuals with high agreeableness are having a tendency to perform prosocial behaviors towards others. Some personality traits, such as anger and aggressin result in disengagement of prosocial behaviors.

Thus, the current study will try to find the relationship between empathy, personality and prosocial behaviors among (participants).

Problem statement

With every passing second, the population in Malaysia is increasing. These days, Malaysians becomes less considerate of those needed their help, for an example, giving seats to the elderly or pregnant women. Hence, prosocial behaviors should be encouraged and show some helpful and sincere actions from human nature. People tend to feel grateful when receiving prosocial behaviors from others. In the society nowadays, prosocial behaviors are less to be seen. Hence, the people who needs help suffering from helpless situation when they facing problems in either physically or emotionally. It might take some time to improve society to behave morally on helping the group of people who needs assistance.

According to a local Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, soup kitchens were built to help the victims who suffer from disasters or homelessness. There are a few soup kitchens operating in Penang in order to help the victims by providing them with foods (Mok, 2014). However, the populations of homeless person increases and it becomes a concern in society. Immediately, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor suggested shutting down all the soup kitchens in Malaysia. According to Tam (2014), Tengku Adnan claimed that soup kitchens encouraged people to stay homeless, jobless, and may lead to littering and scavenging. Moreover, the tourists and foreign workers may take advantage of free meals from soup kitchens in the city (Tam, 2014). Munirah stressed on the soup kitchens are benefitting to the people who suffer from disasters but not beggars. The beggars will be chased out by the syndicates after got the foods (Tam, 2014). Lim then said that is not good by taking out soup kitchen in the city. Lim continued and told Tengku Adnan to remove the ban on soup kitchens.

Furthermore, environment could be influenced if the society did not perform prosocial behaviors. According to the reporter of The Star newspaper, Lai (2014), the Malaysian Nature Society had cleaned up the recreational places and public parks around Petaling Jaya, Malaysia after visiting to decrease the spread of disease-carrying rodents. Andrew from the Malaysian Nature Society complained that the irresponsible behaviors like leaving the food waste may lead to the growing of wildfire such as rats and worms (Lai, 2014). Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya advised the public regarding the safety while swimming at the waterfalls and ponds after Abu Hanifah Redzuan passed away from leptospirosis on May, 2013 (Lai, 2013).


Significance of study

This study is important because we concern about how people perform prosocial behaviors in society. Nowadays, the people in society has slowly becomes more heartless and without helping others especially children and senior citizen. For an example, the young generation does not keep a good environment well such as discarding trash everywhere. It is heart-broken when seeing society became worsen. Prosocial behaviors able to help people who really in need such as the victims who suffering from disasters.

According to Einolf (2008), the study found that prosocial behavior is not applying to every individual. Some are helpful but some are not. There are several factors that causing prosocial behaviors to act, such as age, gender, income, education and relationship (Einolf, 2008). People tend to help the person who are relating to themselves. For an example, a boy allows a girl to cut line when purchasing movie tickets. This has been clearly seen that gender is the main cause of the prosocial behavior as well as relationship. This study is to benefit readers to perform prosocial behaviors with empathy.

Unfortunately, for the rejected people or friends, they hardly practice prosocial behaviors to find friends (Twenge et al., 2007). According to Twenge et al. (2007), the individual that been excluded by peers hardly build trust and reduced ability to emphasize others to provide helps. For an example, the individual that always not returning the money after borrow from others seldom successfully borrow from the same person again. This behavior shows that the peers hardly trust on the rejected person anymore. Thus, this study is to test on how personality affects prosocial behaviors.


The first objective is to study the relationship of personality and prosocial behavior. Three traits are selected to examine in this study which are, agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion. According to Mike, Jackson and Oltmanns (2014), volunteering changes the rules for conscientious individuals, for an example the person who is high in conscientiousness are too focus on their careers and unable to practice voluntarily behaviors frequently. It is clearly to be seen that personality can be one of main criteria in performing prosocial behaviors. Therefore, this study has to be carrying out to discuss about this relationship.

The second objective is to study the relationship of empathy and prosocial behavior. Beside personality, empathy is also one of the important factors that affecting prosocial behavior of an individual. As Einolf (2008) pointed out, empathy acts as an important factor in building the fundamentals of moral thinking and actions. In his research, it shows that empathy is affecting the behaviors but not prosocial behaviors. This study aims to determine how empathy affects prosocial behaviors.

Operational Definition

Personality. According to Feist and Feist (2009), they claimed that personality is both long-lasting traits and special characteristics that promote constancy and uniqueness to an individual’s actions. However, this study reviews personality through the scores of three subscales of the Big Five Inventory (BFI) as in extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Different traits will be measuring according to their subscales respectively.

Conscientiousness. Conscientiousness can be defined as individual differences in the tendency to be purposive, to adhere to social norms and rules, and to be able to and delay gratification (Jackson et al., 2010). People who having high conscientiousness able to follow the instructions and do the procedural tasks. In this study, the ability of conscientiousness can be measure through one of the subscale in BFI.

Extraversion. According to John and Srivastava (1999), Extraversion is measured according to a person’s sociability, expressiveness, activity level, dominance level, and positive emotions. Another study by Rothmmann and Coetzer (2003) also reported extroverts as more assertive, sociable, talkative, and higher participation rate in activities compared to introverts. Okun, Pugliese, and Rook (2007) also reported extroverts as energetic, friendly, optimistic, and assertive sociable people.

Agreeableness. People who having high agreeableness are selfless, sympathetic to others, tend to help others, and tend to cooperate with others (Rothmann & Coetzer, 2003). Helpful behaviors always practiced by these people. There is a subscale in BFI used to measure the level of agreeableness of an individual.

Empathy. According to Zinn (1993), empathy explained as the intervention of feeling an individual’s negative emotions by telling that experience while keeping an observant gesture. In this study, empathy is measuring by using the scores of the questionnaires in terms of perspective taking, emphatic concern and personal distress.

Perspective taking. Perspective taking is an ability to take on others’ perspective or point of view (Davis, 1980). The ability of perspective taking is testing by one of the subscale in Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) measurement.

Empathic concern. Empathy concern is the tendency to practice others’ emotional thoughts of sympathy and feel for the unlucky person (Davis, 1980). The empathic concern level of a person will be measured by the score of a subscales of IRI in this study.

Personal distress. According to Davis (1980), personal distress is defined as the propensity of an individual to feel anxiety and tension during interpersonal situations. It often happen on a helper is applying empathy to another person. It will be measured by one of the subscales in IRI in this study.

Prosocial behavior. According to Eisenberg, Fabes and Spinrad (2006), prosocial behavior is the actions that not required repay and willing to help others. It often means the voluntarily actions to perform to others instead of helping self. There are two factors to be measured in prosocial behavior of a person in this study. The two factors are other-oriented empathy and helpfulness.

Other-oriented Empathy. According to Penner et al. (1995), other-oriented empathy is labeled as the ability to practice both affective and cognitive empathy, and to concern about the responsibility and the others’ welfare. This factor is more focusing on prosocial and emotional thoughs (Penner et al., 1995). In this study, the level other-oriented empathy of an individual is measuring by one of the subscales in Prosocial Personality Battery (PSB).

Helpfulness. Helpfulness can be defined as the tendency of an individual to practice self-oriented discomfort when others are extremely distress (Penner et al., 1995). This factor is focusing on behavioral tendencies. The level of helpfulness will be measured through one of the subscales of PSB in this study.

Theoretical framework (diagram)

Psychological approaches tend to view genuine empathic concern as the causes of prosocial behavior. Empathic-altruism hypothesis is one of the theory that linking between empathy and prosocial behavior. It claimed as the empathic concern felt for an individual in need creates altruistic motivation (Lopez & Snyder, 2009). In 2009, Lopez and Snyder identified three possible self-benefits of empathy-induced helping and introduces three alternatives: (i) aversive-arousal reduction – relieving the empathic concern happened by showing others who needs help; (ii) punishment avoidance – avoiding empathy-specific material, social and self-punishments; and (iii) reward seeking – receiving empathy-specific material, social and self-punishment. Empathic-altrusim hypothesis means likely to enable the individual to decrease empathy, preventing penalty and gaining rewards when helping others. In this theory, it can be explained that an individual tends to help others when feeling empathy towards others.

The theory that an individual relieves own negative emotions and thoughts is called as negative-state relief hypothesis. It has been explained as the helper practice an egoistic desire to cure own negative emotions, thoughts and feelings after helping the other person (Cialdini et. al, 1987). After the helper practiced empathy-altruism hypothesis as mentioned above, the person may experience negative emotions and try to distress by self. The people who have higher empathy level will practice higher negative-state relief hypothesis (Batson et al., 1989). They also found that empathy-helping relation exists when an individual carries out mood enhancement for negative-state relief hypothesis (Batson et al., 1989).

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