Altruism born of suffering among emerging adults in Northern Ireland

Date09 July 2018
Published date09 July 2018
AuthorLaura K. Taylor,Jeffrey R. Hanna
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Altruism born of suffering among
emerging adults in Northern Ireland
Laura K. Taylor and Jeffrey R. Hanna
Purpose The purpose of this paper is t o explore altruism born of suffering (ABS), a th eory that explains
how the experience of suffering within ones own life may result in the m otivation to help others, even
outgroup members.
Design/methodology/approach Participants were 186 emerging adults (63 per cent female, 37 per cent
male; 69 per cent Protestant, 41 per cent Catholic; average age ¼21.3, SD ¼2.57 years old) in Northern
Ireland, a setting of protracted intergroup conflict. Participants were randomly assigned to an in/outgroup
condition, read four types of adversity that occurred to same-sex victim(s), and indicated their empathetic
response and how much they would like to help the victims.
Findings Moderated mediation analyses revealed that empathy for the victim partially mediated the impact
of perceived harm on desire to help; moreover, recent negative life events strengthened the link between
harm and empathy. The path between empathy and helping was stronger in the outgroup compared to the
ingroup condition.
Practical implications These findings support ABS, highlighting empathyas a key factor underlying more
constructive intergroup relations in a divided society.
Originality/value This paper extends previous research on ABS by focusing on a post-accord context.
The value of the current analyses demonstrate the important role of fostering empathy to promote outgroup
helping in settings of divisive group identities.
Keywords Northern Ireland, Empathy, Altruism, Prosocial behaviour, Helping behaviours, Intergroup conflict
Paper type Research paper
Conflict between g roups plagues dozens of countri es around the world, while natura ld isasters
such as earthquakes, flood and drought fill headlines. Facing these multiple forms of adversity,
humans have a number of ways to respond. Altruism born of suffering (ABS; Staub, 2003;
Staub and Vollhardt, 2008; Vollhardt, 2009), a theory developed to understand helping
behaviours duri ng the Holocaust, may shed lig ht on the processes and condit ions under which
individuals resp ond to adversity by assisting o thers. Moreover, in divid ed societies, ABS may
suggest pathways to promote intergroup helping behaviours (Taylor et al., 2014).
Understanding how past experiences shape individual responses to the suffering of others,
such as empathy, is particularly important among young people. Past research has found that
patterns of altruism and other prosocial orientations established in emerging adulthood often
last across the life course (Bowman et al., 2010). Toward this end, this is the first study to
explore the role of A BS and its implications for improv ing intergroup relations amon g emerging
adults in Northern I reland (NI).
NI: conflict and context
NI is a setting of protracted history of ethno-national struggle between those who wish to remain
part of the UK andthose who wish for a united Ireland(Darby, 1983). The most recentoutbreak of
sustained violencein NI was the The Troubles(1968-1998),in which over 3,600 deaths, 35,000
injuries, and 14,000 bombings occurred (Goeke-Morey et al., 2013). Almost two decades have
passed following the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, largely settling the constitutional
dispute aroundterritorial belonging.Yet, sporadic political violencepersists, society remainslargely
Received 26 January 2017
Revised 21 April 2017
Accepted 2 May 2017
Laura K. Taylor is a Lecturer
(Assistant Professor) and
Jeffrey R. Hanna is a Research
Assistant, both at the School of
Psychology, Queens
University Belfast, Belfast, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-01-2017-0271 VOL. 10 NO. 3 2018, pp.157-169, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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