High cost helping scenario: The role of empathy, prosocial reasoning and moral disengagement on helping behavior

Marinella Paciello, Roberta Fida, Luca Cerniglia, Carlo Tramontano, Ellie Cole

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134 Citations (Scopus)


This study aimed to investigate the process that leads people to offer or omit help in response to an explicit request for assistance, taking into account both emotional and cognitive factors. Specifically, a hypothetical scenario methodology was used in a sample of 174 Italian youths (50% males) to examine whether and how factors such as empathy, prosocial moral reasoning and moral disengagement influence the propensity to help when providing assistance is not in the individual’s personal interest. While a few previous studies have included moral disengagement as an antecedent of prosocial decision making, we highlight the significance of this factor in the avoidance of moral responsibility towards others in need. The results highlight two ways in which differences in emotional tendencies and moral-cognitive processes may operate in prosocial decision making in high personal cost situations. First, high empathy levels could promote an altruistic response which in turn fosters mature prosocial moral reasoning. Second, personal distress may enhance moral disengagement mechanisms that may facilitate self-centred behaviors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-7
Number of pages5
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number1
Early online date4 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • Empathy
  • Prosocial reasoning
  • Moral disengagement
  • Omission
  • Personal distress
  • Helping behavior

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