The Empathy-Prospect Model and the Choice to Help

Julie Lee, J.K. Murnighan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


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
Pages (from-to)816-839
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001


Cite this