Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Emotions and cognition; Helping behavior; Empathy; Persuasion (Psychology);


In this fast and competitive world, people are becoming less likely to help others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), the volunteerism rate reached the lowest point in 2013 since 2002. This decrease in prosocial behavior makes the study of prosocial behavior important, especially with the increasing numbers of charitable organizations and their competition to attract more donors and volunteers. Public service advertisements (PSA) are used as a common medium to garner help and support, and many of them use emotional appeals to enhance persuasion. The literature on persuasion shows that emotions have persuasive power to change people's behavior. For example, participants induced with negative emotions are more careful and detailed as compared to those who are induced with positive emotions (Bohner, Crow, Erb, & Schwarz, 1992). Negative emotions can also increase helping behavior. The negative state relief model (Cialdini, Darby, & Vincent, 1973) states that people help in order to alleviate the discomfort caused by negative emotions. For example, guilty participants donate more blood and report a significant reduction in their guilty feeling after the donation (O’Malley & Andrews, 1983).

In this study, I expanded on Bagozzi and Moore (1994) to test whether different levels of negative emotions influence empathy and prosocial behavior differently. I also tested whether cognitive reappraisal moderated the relationship between negative emotions and prosocial behavior. Participants (N= 163) recruited from mTurk completed measures of cognitive reappraisal and social desirability and viewed one of three images (i.e., image of a young girl photoshopped to have no bruises, a few bruises, or many bruises) with a message to support anti-child abuse efforts. Participants self-reported the negative emotions the advertisement made them feel. They also completed an empathy measure and indicated how willing they would be to help the child abuse cause through volunteer efforts and donation pledges.

Those who viewed the strong and medium negative emotional images (images of a girl with few or more bruises) reported more negative emotions than those viewed the image in the weak emotional condition (image without bruises). Participants who reported more negative emotions also reported more empathy, but the images seen had no effect on willingness to help or donation. Most people indicated a moderate level of willingness to help, but only 20% pledged a donation. Cognitive reappraisal did not moderate the relationship between negative emotions and helping behavior, but it significantly correlated with both negative emotions and willingness to help. This finding adds to research suggesting that individuals who better regulate their emotions are more prosocial (Eisenberg et al., 1996). Overall, consistent with theories of prosocial behavior (Batson, 1991; Cialdini et al., 1973), negative emotions were related to empathy, and both related to greater self-reported intentions to help, but contrary to both those theories and the research on persuasion, this did not translate into actual behavior.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Helen Harton, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 93 pages)