International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Empathy and political attitudes

Hulda Thorisdottir, University of Iceland

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: University of Iceland
Research Area: Political decision making

Negative emotions such as anxiety, uncertainty, sadness, incidental fear, and fear of death have been linked with politically conservative attitudes. Associating moods and emotions with an increased liberal stance has turned out to be elusive. In this experiment, we tested the hypothesis that empathy, sharing another’s moods and feelings, is associated with political views typically found on the liberal end of the political continuum. Empathy was induced completely independent of any societal or political context. Participants (N = 96) watched one of two versions of a classic and simple animation film from psychological research. The film shows two triangles move in and around a box (Heider and Simmel, 1944). Participants in the empathy condition saw a version of the film in which the triangles seem to interact. This version is known to elicit a strong tendency to anthropomorphize the triangles. The other version of the film shows the triangles move randomly across the space. After describing the movements of the triangles, all participants then answered various questionnaires on political attitudes. Results show that participants in the empathy condition were more likely to say they generally find it easy to experience empathy. Most importantly, people in the empathy condition were also less likely to justify the system, less in favor of tax reductions and described themselves as more liberal compared to participants in the control condition. Results are discussed in light of the permanence of the effects and state of knowledge about the relationship between emotions and political attitudes.