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The Interplay of Empathy and Individualism in Support for Social Welfare Policies

Feldman, Stanley and Huddy, Leonie and Wronksi, Julie and Lown, Patrick (2019) 'The Interplay of Empathy and Individualism in Support for Social Welfare Policies.' Political Psychology. ISSN 0162-895X

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Abstract

Public support for government welfare programs is grounded in two potentially conflicting factors: a belief in individualism which undermines support for welfare assistance, and the capacity for empathy which potentially enhances support. However, empathy is an expensive psychological commodity subject to pervasive up- and down-regulation. This study examines the degree to which a belief in individualism affects the expression of compassionate support for a person in need among those with the capacity for empathy. In two online survey experiments, empathic ability powerfully increases support for a welfare recipient and social welfare policies when it does not conflict with individualism. But, empathic ability decreases compassion and support for government welfare among strong individualists. Evidence that individualists downregulate empathy for someone in need of government assistance is consistent with the conservative view that welfare promotes dependency and undermines individual agency. In contrast, charitable assistance is not associated with long-term dependency and we find that empathy is up-regulated by strong individualists to generate charitable support for the same individual to whom they denied government assistance. The up- and down-regulation of empathy in response to someone in need of government welfare helps illuminate the sharp divisions over social welfare policy among the American public

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Empathy, Individualism, Social Welfare
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Government, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2019 13:02
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2019 14:15
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/24803

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