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Political behavior and emotional disposition: Empathy and the collective action problem

John A Sautter, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study investigates the effects of an empathetic emotional disposition in decision making. The hypothesis that empathy is a general guide to collective action decisions is proposed and tested. Evolutionary theory posits that group level selection has endowed humans with a propensity for cooperative behavior in the absence of selective incentives by equipping the human mind with pro-social emotions. ^ Three separate studies are used to investigate the importance of empathy in collective action problems. The first study utilizes a survey methodology to understand how empathy impacts citizens' likelihood of electoral participation. The second study investigates how empathy facilitates cooperation in an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. Finally, an experiment using a galvanic skin response monitor is utilized in order to analyze the accuracy of empathy in predicting political in-group/out-group associations. Findings indicate that empathy is not only a significant predictor of behavior, but is a conditional characteristic that can promulgate defection as well as cooperative behavior. ^

Subject Area

Political Science, General

Recommended Citation

Sautter, John A, "Political behavior and emotional disposition: Empathy and the collective action problem" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3201779.