Role of Prosocial Emotions

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Transforming “Apathy Into Movement”:The
Role of Prosocial Emotions in Motivating
Action for Social Change
Emma F. Thomas
The Australian National University, Canberra
Craig McGarty
Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Kenneth I. Mavor
The Australian National University, Canberra
Authors’ Note: The research has been supported in part by the
Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant No. DP0770731.
The authors wish to thank Galen Bodenhausen and two anonymous
reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this
article. Please address correspondence to Emma F. Thomas, Regulatory
Institutions Network, The Australian National University, Canberra,
ACT, 0200, Australia; e-mail:
PSPR, Vol. 13 No. 4, November 2009 310-333
DOI: 10.1177/1088868309343290
© 2009 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Smith, 2004; Smith, 1993) signaled increasing interest in
the contribution that group-based emotion can add to
the study of social phenomena, including prejudice and
discrimination (Brown & Hewstone, 2005; Smith, 1993),
social harmony and reconciliation (Nadler & Liviatan,
2006), and social and political action (e.g., Iyer, Schmader,
& Lickel, 2007; Leach, Iyer, & Pedersen, 2006; van
Zomeren, Spears, Leach, & Fischer, 2004; see earlier
contributions from relative deprivation theory, Runciman,
1966; Walker & Smith, 2002, for a review).
This article concentrates on a specific aspect implied
in the Jung quote above: the power of emotion to transform “apathy into movement.” More specifically, this
article explores the transformation of an advantaged
group’s apathy into movement to promote greater social
equality. Following Leach, Snider, and Iyer (2002), we
define advantaged groups as those “secure in their position, due to their greater size or control over resources”
(p. 137). Thus, the scope of this article is defined by,
first, a focus on group emotion and, second, a focus on
emotions that advantaged group members experience in
relation to other people’s deprivation. We argue that it
is in this situation of relative advantage that the power
This article explores the synergies between recent developments in the social identity of helping, and advantaged groups’ prosocial emotion. The authors review
the literature on the potential of guilt, sympathy, and
outrage to transform advantaged groups’ apathy into
positive action. They place this research into a novel
framework by exploring the ways these emotions shape
group processes to produce action strategies that emphasize either social cohesion or social change. These prosocial emotions have a critical but underrecognized role in
creating contexts of in-group inclusion or exclusion,
shaping normative content and meaning, and informing
group interests. Furthermore, these distinctions provide
a useful way of differentiating commonly discussed emotions. The authors conclude that the most “effective”
emotion will depend on the context of the inequality but
that outrage seems particularly likely to productively
shape group processes and social change outcomes.
Keywords: emotion; social identity; helping/prosocial behavior; group processes; morality
In 1938, Carl Jung wrote, “There can be no trans- forming of darkness into light and of apathy into
movement without emotion” (p. 32). In this sentence,
Jung celebrates the profound role that emotion plays in
directing and shaping human behavior. Although individual emotion has long been a mainstay of clinical,
personality, and social psychological research (e.g., the
work of Ekman et al., 1987; Manstead & Fischer, 2001;
Scheff, 1990; Scherer, Schorr, & Johnstone, 2001, to
name a few), the advent of intergroup emotions theory
(Mackie, Devos, & Smith, 2000; Mackie, Silver, &
of emotion to transform apathy to action is most profound—what Nietzsche (quoted in Leach et al., 2002)
called “poisoning the consciences of the fortunate” (p.
136). Accordingly, this article explores the various emotional reactions that advantaged groups can have to the
disadvantage of others and the potential for these discrete emotions to motivate efforts to achieve greater
social equality.
We draw on recent developments in the social identity literature that outline the ways that social group
memberships shape prosocial behavior (e.g., helping
and solidarity; Reicher, Cassidy, Wolpert, Hopkins, &
Levine, 2006) to provide a framework for understanding the various prosocial effects of group emotion.
Taking a social identity perspective (Tajfel & Turner,
1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell,
1987; Turner, Oakes, Haslam, & McGarty, 1994), we
explore the ways that social identities and emotion can,
in combination, profoundly inform perceivers about the
social context and shape their reaction to it. We argue
that such an approach can help to differentiate oftenconfused emotion labels (e.g., sympathy and empathy)
but also provide a useful way to distinguish between
different prosocial strategies (e.g., tokenism, helping,
solidarity, cooperation).
We begin our analysis by outlining the developments in the social identity literature that detail the
underlying group processes responsible for producing
prosocial outcomes. In particular, Reicher et al. (2006)
have argued that there are three interrelated group
properties that are implicated in prosocial behavior.
We then go on to explore the ways that emotion may
theoretically shape these three prosocial group processes. In the next section, we move on to discuss the
possibility that prosocial emotions might usefully be
further classified on the basis of the sorts of social
strategies they promote. We draw on Wright and
Lubensky’s (2008) distinction between social cohesion
and social change strategies.
On the basis of these arguments, the main sections of
this article are underpinned by a framework that uses
Reicher et al.’s (2006) three categories to explore group
processes and emotion and Wright and Lubensky’s
(2008) two strategies to delineate prosocial emotion
outcomes. In particular, we provide an analysis of the
three prosocial emotions (guilt, sympathy, and outrage;
Montada & Schneider, 1989), structured in terms of the
etiology of the emotion; its implications for group processes (as relates to Reicher et al.’s, 2006, insights); and
the sorts of social strategy outcomes likely to emerge
(social cohesion or social change; Wright & Lubensky,
2008). We conclude with a discussion of implications
for existing research but also the implications for people
seeking to mobilize advantaged group members in support of positive social change.
What sorts of identity processes underpin prosocial
behavior? Let us note at the outset that we are using the
general term prosocial to cover a number of separate
behaviors including helping behavior, altruism, cooperation, and solidarity (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder,
2005; Schroeder, Penner, Dovidio, & Piliavin, 1995).
These prosocial strategies will be differentiated throughout the article—indeed, it is one of the key purposes of
the article—but at this point, let us generalize across
them and explore the psychological underpinnings that
are generally understood to motivate an advantaged
group to help, assist, and otherwise take action on
behalf of members of another disadvantaged group. The
social identity approach (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner
et al., 1987) suggests that there are three core processes
that underpin prosocial group behavior: category inclusion, category norms, and category interests. Reicher et
al. (2006) crystallized these three elements into their
social identity model of helping (see also Reicher,
Hopkins, Levine, & Rath, 2005).
The first, category inclusion, is a cognitive perceptual
process that relates to the location of (inter)group
boundaries. A wealth of evidence now supports the assertion, derived from the social identity perspective, that
people will take action to support in-group members and
that this can manifest in intergroup helping (Levine &
Thompson, 2004; Reicher et al., 2006), political solidarity (Subašic´, Reynolds, & Turner, 2008), cooperation
between groups (Gaertner, Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman,
& Rust, 1993), and even bystander emergency intervention (Levine, Cassidy, Brazier, & Reicher, 2002; Levine,
Prosser, Evans, & Reicher, 2005). In Reicher et al.’s
(2006) social identity model of helping, the first element
relates to the need for a meaningful superordinate categorization to be available, such that advantaged and
disadvantaged can be included in a common in-group.
In a similar vein, Subašic´ et al.’s (2008) recent model of
political solidarity emphasizes a shared identity meaning with the minority group (and not the authority) as
underpinning support for, and solidarity with, a disadvantaged minority.
The second element, category norms, relates to the
rhetorical meaning associated with the group, as evidenced by the group norms. When an identity is salient,
people will behave in line with group norms that prescribe
appropriate and normative forms of action (Jetten,
McAuliffe, Hornsey, & Hogg, 2006; Jetten, Spears, &
Manstead, 1997; Terry & Hogg, 1996). Reicher et al.
(2006) argue that the group norms must promote helping. Their analysis of documents used to mobilize support of Bulgarian Jews during World War II demonstrated
the ways that the category norms for the Bulgarian identity prescribed support for a persecuted people.
The final element, category interests, relates to the
strategic concerns that accompany helping behavior. In
particular, Reicher et al. (2006) suggest that helping is
more likely to come about when in-group interests (e.g.,
maintenance of a positive in-group identity) are served
by helping. Thus, in the WWII era documents, identity
concerns were represented such that the Bulgarian ingroup would be threatened by not helping. Other
research has shown that group members can engage in
helping behavior to strategically improve the group’s
stereotype (Hopkins et al., 2007) and/or restore a
threatened identity (van Leeuwen, 2007).
Overall, Reicher and colleagues argue that effective
categories will be those that are able to include everyone
whom one is seeking to mobilize (category inclusion)
but also those categories that have the resources to
render normative the actions one is advocating (category norms) and represent the strategic reasons for
doing so (category interests). However, the social identity approach also emphasizes the fluid, dynamic, and
constructed nature of social identity (Onorato & Turner,
2004). Other work by Reicher, Haslam, and colleagues
(e.g., Reicher, 1996, 2004; Reicher, Haslam, & Hopkins,
2005) has highlighted the ways that social identities are
contested by group members, yielding a continual process of identity construction, reconstruction, and transformation through consensus (see also Postmes, Haslam,
& Swaab, 2005; Postmes, Spears, Lee, & Novak, 2005).
Put another way, the category inclusion, category norms,
and category interest elements discussed by Reicher and
colleagues are also dynamic, contestable, changeable,
and fundamentally shaped through processes of argumentation and consensualization among group members (Reicher et al., 2006). Building on these insights, in
this article we explore the ways that emotions can powerfully shape the social identity processes outlined by
Reicher et al. (2006) and others (Hopkins et al., 2007;
Levine et al., 2005; Subašic´ et al., 2008; van Leeuwen,
2007). We argue that exploring the synergies between
group emotion, and the sorts of identity processes outlined above would contribute much to our understanding of prosocial group behavior.
For group emotion to contribute usefully to our understanding of the dynamic processes of identity construction, reconstruction, and transformation, it is necessary
to have a dynamic theory of group emotion. Indeed, the
existing literature on social identity and group emotion
suggests that the causal relationships between the two
are likely to be bidirectional, dynamic, and complex
(Kessler & Hollbach, 2005; Smith & Mackie, 2006).
Consistent with these points, Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall,
and Zhang (2007) have emphasized the role of anticipation, reevaluation, and reconstruction in the emotion
process, whereas Smith and Mackie (2006) have discussed the ways that group members can, over time,
disengage with groups that elicit negative group emotions. Let us briefly discuss this literature, toward further clarifying the dynamic causal properties of social
identity and group emotion.
On one hand, group emotion is often theoretically
understood as stemming from the straightforward appraisal process elaborated in intergroup emotion theory,
where appraisal based on a group (social) self leads to
group emotion, which leads to group action (Mackie
et al., 2000; Smith, 1993). Similarly, in the recently
articulated social identity model of collective action
(SIMCA; van Zomeren, Postmes, & Spears, 2008),
these authors causally place a salient social identity
before the experience of emotional reactions to injustice
(group emotion). Figure 1a depicts the simple causal
model where a salient social identity leads to congruent
group emotions, which then shape particular action
strategies. This is group-based emotion, as it is traditionally defined and understood (Iyer & Leach, 2008;
Smith, Seger, & Mackie, 2007), where social identities
are (partially) enacted through an emotion pathway
(van Zomeren et al., 2008).
On the other hand, we argue that it is also useful to
explore the ways that emotions can equally give rise to
social group memberships and/or inform group norms.
Indeed, recent evidence suggests that social identities
can be actively created by group members based on
shared cognition (where shared cognition refers to shared
knowledge structures; Swaab, Postmes, van Beest, &
Spears, 2007). In a similar vein, Peters and Kashima
(2007) have described the ways that the social sharing
of emotion can create links among people and foster a
shared understanding of the world. This shared understanding can be used to coordinate social interaction
within a group but also action between groups (Leach
& Tiedens, 2004; Peters & Kashima, 2007; Smith et al.,
2007). Figure 1b depicts this simple causal model where
emotion can form the basis for an effective social category, which then motivates social action. Given that we
propose that group formation can stem from emotional
experience, it seems likely that perception is personalized, or individuated, in this context (which is different
from how group emotion is traditionally defined and
understood; Iyer & Leach, 2008). That is, the emotion
is initially experienced at an individual level, but the recognition that others share the emotion forms the basis for
group formation (see Peters & Kashima, 2007). We further
articulate some of the implications of this causal order
below where we consider how group emotion might
shape the processes outlined by Reicher et al. (2006).
Thus, on the basis of the available literature, both
causal orderings seem likely and plausible in the everyday
social context of group emotion and identity. Consistent
with these points, Kessler and Hollbach (2005) emphasized the bidirectionality of causal links between emotion and identification. Elsewhere (Thomas, McGarty,
& Mavor, 2009), we have argued that these elements
are best seen as part of a dynamic system of interrelations, where causal ordering will vary over time and
depending on social context. In particular, we argued
that a shared group membership can give rise to, or
facilitate, the experience of group emotion and other
action-relevant beliefs (as in Figure 1a; see Mackie et al.,
2000; van Zomeren et al., 2008), as may be the case in
established, historical social groups, but that, similarly,
those emotional experiences can also trigger psychological group formation and subsequently become
encapsulated in “what it means” to be a group member
(Turner, 1991), as may be the case of incipient, emergent social groups (Figure 1b). Such ideas are also
broadly consistent with recent developments exploring
the role of individuality within the group, which have
emphasized the ways that individuality can shape emergent groups (as in Figure 1b) and groups shape individuals (as in Figure 1a) (Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab,
2005; Postmes & Jetten, 2006). Thus, incorporating
these different causal orderings is consistent with the
dynamic, iterative, transformational, and constructed
nature of social identity described above.
Given these points, what are the ways that group
emotion can contribute to our understanding of the
three interrelated processes outlined by Reicher et al.
(2006)? We argue that the experience of emotion can
fundamentally inform the perceiver about the social
context by (a) providing a basis on which to categorize
in-group members or out-group members based on
whether the emotion is shared or not; (b) informing the
content, and relational meaning, of the identity; and
(c) shaping the ways that group members take strategic
action. These are the three general processes considered
most important in the work outlined above on social
identity and helping (Reicher et al., 2006). Let us consider each of these points in more detail.
Category Inclusion
With regard to the first component, category inclusion, we argue that advantaged groups’ emotions have
the potential to shape and restructure (inter)group
boundaries. For example, experiencing feelings of fear
in relation to another person is unlikely to lead to a
categorization of that person as an in-group member;
the very fact that someone elicits a fearful reaction is
indicative of a different worldview and antagonistic
relationship (Bar-Tal, 2001; Turner, 2005). Conversely,
experiencing the same emotion is more likely to give rise
to a perception of the other person as an in-group member (see Peters & Kashima’s, 2007, work on emotion
sharing; Swaab et al., 2007). Extending on this point,
we argue that some emotions have the potential to
traverse ostensible intergroup boundaries. Because emotions can assist in creating a shared worldview and uniting previously separate groups in coordinated social
action (Peters & Kashima, 2007), then it follows that
emotions that can be experienced by both the advantaged and the disadvantaged are likely to be more successful at motivating genuine attempts to create intergroup
equality and cooperation.
Category Norms
Emotions can also inform group members about the
reasons for, and context of, disadvantage and, in doing
so, can powerfully shape normative considerations
(the second component). For example, group guilt is
understood to be accompanied by appraisals of ingroup responsibility (Branscombe, Doosje, & McGarty,
2002). To the extent that perceptions of in-group
responsibility become embodied in the group membership (in relation to the disadvantage suffered by the
other group), then this emotion is likely to inform
norms for specific sorts of action. The idea that an
emotional reaction can inform relational meaning, or
normative content, of an identity is contained in the
arguments of Stürmer, Simon, and Klandermans (Simon
& Klandermans, 2001; Stürmer & Simon, in press).
1b: recognition of shared emotion precipitates group formation.
1a: salient social self (social identity) gives rise to group emotion.
Figure 1 A dynamic causal model of social identity and group emotion.
NOTE: In everyday social interaction, the two processes would be
These authors argue that anger plays a powerful role
in politicizing a social identity, transforming the identity such that it is more ready for social action. Thus,
to the extent that anger becomes normatively engaged
with the identity, this will engender particular sorts of
normative action (usually surrounding political
There also is converging evidence that it may be fruitful to explore emotions as normative processes themselves (Smith et al., 2007; Tarrant, Dazeley, & Cottom,
in press; Thomas & McGarty, 2009). In other words, it
is possible that the emotion overall will shape group
memberships both directly (by shaping behavior norms)
and indirectly (by shaping emotion norms).
Category Interests
Finally, related to the points above, emotions will
shape the sorts of strategies that group members prefer
(category interests), in particular depending on where
the emotion implies that blame lies (one of the key
appraisal components; Lazarus, 1991). Emotions will
also inform the perceiver about the (group) self-relevant
strategic dimensions to the inequality. For example, as
we will argue below, moral outrage is likely to make
strategic representations concerning the need to restore
a moral status quo, whereas empathy is likely to represent category interests based on a perceived interchangeability between self and other.
Nadler and Liviatan (2006) have also explored the
ways in which emotions themselves can be deployed
tactically, to aid in promoting intergroup cooperation,
reconciliation, or conflict. Thus, it seems that, just as
groups can be strategic about their behavior in the helping context (Hopkins et al., 2007; Reicher et al., 2006;
van Leeuwen, 2007), it can be beneficial for both the
intergroup relationship and the disadvantaged group in
particular if they can be equally tactical about the ways
they express themselves.
Overall, then, we argue that incorporating an understanding of group emotion has much to contribute to
our understanding of the dynamic social identity
processes and prosocial behavior outlined by Reicher
and colleagues. We acknowledge, though, that we are
far from the first to make such points; indeed, it was
similar arguments concerning the potential for emotion to usefully capture and differentiate group processes that motivated E. R. Smith, Mackie, and
colleagues (Mackie et al., 2000; Mackie et al., 2004;
Smith, 1993; Smith & Ho, 2002) to develop intergroup emotion theory in the first place. Rather, our
concern is that group emotion is sometimes explored
in rather static ways. Thus, our point is to reenergize
a focus on the ways in which emotions can shape and
reshape group boundaries and transform subjective
group memberships, to promote either action or apathy. We pursue these points with regard to prosocial
emotion and behavior.
Appraisal theory, on which intergroup emotion theory is based, makes it clear that emotional reactions are
premised on a basic process of appraising, or evaluating, features in the environment. For something to be
appraised, it must first be observed (Frijda, 1993;
Lazarus, 1991; Smith & Lazarus, 1993). However,
Leach et al. (2002) have explored the ways that members of advantaged groups can go to great lengths to
either minimize or completely ignore their own privilege. Only when the advantage is recognized, with the
associated emotion, is the potential for promoting social
equality greatest (Leach et al., 2002).
It is also clear that not all feelings of relative advantage will produce a reaction designed to overcome the
inequality and promote action to bring about positive
social change. For example, disdain is unlikely to motivate positive prosocial behavior (Leach et al., 2002).
Given the broad range of emotions that can be experienced in situations of relative advantage, Leach and colleagues (Leach et al., 2002), drawing on work by Montada
and Schneider (1989), differentiated four appraisal dimensions on which feelings of relative advantage might be
differentiated: the extent to which the advantaged are
focused on themselves (self) or on the disadvantaged
(other); the perceived legitimacy of the privilege; the perceived stability of the advantage; and the degree of perceived control that the advantaged have over their
position. Overall, the emotion that is experienced in the
face of relative advantage is a function of the structure
of the intergroup relations, along the four dimensions
(see also Harth, Kessler, & Leach, 2008).
In this work (Leach et al., 2002; Montada &
Schneider, 1989) and in that on interpersonal emotion
(Feather, 2006; Lazarus, 1991), there are understood to
be three primary prosocial emotions implicated in a
desire to help another: guilt, sympathy, and moral outrage. The first goal of this article is to provide a review
of what is known about each of these emotions in motivating positive group-level action. That is, what role
does each of these play in turning apathy into social
action on behalf of another group? We also expand the
analysis of these three prosocial emotions to include
two additional, related emotions that can also be associated with prosocial outcomes: empathy and (self-focused) anger. Thus, we argue that there are three general
categories of prosocial emotion: guilt; sympathy and
empathy; and anger and outrage. Leach et al. (2002)
provided an overview of these emotions; however, the
subsequent proliferation of research on these emotions
makes an updated review timely.
As suggested, a second goal of this article is to explore
the ways that these same prosocial emotions might shape
and restructure intergroup boundaries, to produce different prosocial strategies to reduce inequality. Advantaged
groups can use a range of social strategies to “help” or
provide assistance to the disadvantaged; however, not
all of these are premised on a genuine desire to change
the status quo (Iyer, Leach, & Pedersen, 2004; Nadler,
2002; Nadler & Halabi, 2006; Wright & Lubensky,
2008; Wright, Taylor, & Moghaddam, 1990). Indeed,
Wright and Lubensky (2008; see also Wright, Kiu,
Semenya, & Comeau, 2008) explored the differences
between the collective action and prejudice reduction
literatures, arguing that the two traditions have resulted
in antithetical approaches to the question of addressing
social inequality. Wright and Lubensky (2008) broadly
differentiate the strategies preferred by the two literatures thus: “The prejudice reduction approach focuses
on themes of intergroup harmony and social cohesion. . . . The collective action perspective speaks in
terms of equality across groups, not harmony between
groups, and focuses on social justice” (p. 306). We draw
broadly on this critical distinction between approaches
that attempt to address inequalities by creating social
cohesion and those strategies that attempt to address
inequalities by achieving social justice and social change.
In this article, we are particularly interested in those
social strategies that are likely to bring about a change
in the social status of historically (or incidentally) disadvantaged groups. From our perspective, genuine social
change is about redressing social inequality at a group
level; thus, we are less interested in those approaches
that might elevate individuals of disadvantaged groups
(as in tokenism) but without changing the status of the
group as a whole.
Thus, we consider the ways in which the three categories of prosocial emotion act to (re)structure group
boundaries and shape group processes and the different
forms of prosocial strategies (broadly, social cohesion or
social change) that may result. Emotion that is shared
with others can create a shared understanding of the
world (Leach & Tiedens, 2004; Peters & Kashima,
2007). Accordingly, our key argument throughout is that
the most effective emotion (to mirror Reicher et al.’s,
2006, discussion of effective categories) is likely to be
one that (a) can be shared by both the advantaged and
disadvantaged, (b) will direct normative forms of social
and political action, and (c) strategically recognizes the
expertise and experience of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups. In other words, if the goal is genuine
social cooperation toward positive social change, rather
than top-down paternalistic assistance (Nadler, 2002;
Nadler & Halabi, 2006), it may be more fruitful to
explore emotions that both the advantaged and the disadvantaged groups can experience. In exploring this
proposition, we propose new ways of conceptualizing
the differences between two sets of often-confused emotions at a group level: sympathy and empathy; outrage
and anger.
Given these two goals, in what follows we will first
provide a review of the relevant literature relating to
group-based emotions: guilt, sympathy and empathy,
and anger and moral outrage, respectively. For each of
these emotions, we will then consider the ways that the
emotion might affect group boundaries, and the relational meaning of the social identities. We then conclude
by exploring the sorts of prosocial strategies that group
emotions seem likely to promote. Our overall analysis of
each of these emotions can be seen in Figure 2, which
depicts each of the prosocial emotions that are the focus
in this article, the ways that they shape group processes,
and the specific sorts of social strategies likely to
emerge. It also organizes each emotion under the Wright
and Lubensky (2008) social cohesion or social change
Broadly, guilt arises from internalized values about
right and wrong (Lazarus, 1991). At an individual
appraisal level, it centers around actions (or imagined
actions) that we regard as morally reprehensible and the
appraisal pattern is characterized by a moral transgression, for which there is blame to the self (Lazarus,
1991). Group-level guilt has been shown to be similar
in nature to individual-level guilt; however, the self that
has committed the transgression is a social self (see
Turner et al., 1994). Consistent with a group-level perspective of guilt, there is good evidence that people can
feel guilt based on their social group memberships
(Branscombe & Doosje, 2004).
Doosje et al. (1998, Study 1) used minimal groups to
show that it is possible to induce guilt in people even
though their personal self was not responsible for the
harm inflicted on another. There is a large literature on
the experience of guilt, in particular “White guilt,” in
relation to the historical mistreatment and continuing
inequality in the context of the White American treatment of African Americans (Iyer, Leach, & Crosby,
2003; Iyer et al., 2004; Swim & Miller, 1999), the
Dutch colonial treatment of Indonesians (Doosje et al.,
1998; Zebel, Doosje, & Spears, 2004), and the White
System, government,or third party
Figure 2 The prosocial emotions and group processes as a function of social cohesion or social change strategies.
Australian mistreatment of Indigenous Australians
(Branscombe et al., 2002; Leach et al., 2006; McGarty
& Bliuc, 2004; McGarty et al., 2005; Pedersen, Beven,
Walker, & Griffiths, 2004). Furthermore, there is related
research on the atrocities committed against Jewish
people during the Second World War (Wohl &
Branscombe, 2004, 2005), the American and British
occupation of Iraq (Iyer et al., 2007), and gender inequality between men and women (Branscombe, 1998;
Schmitt, Branscombe, & Brehm, 2004; Schmitt,
Ellemers, & Branscombe, 2003).
What of cases where the group is not responsible for
the disadvantage of another group? People in developed
nations could hardly be held responsible for the disadvantage experienced by people in developing nations,
yet members of developed countries often report feeling
guilty about their advantage. Hoffman (1976) coined
the term existential guilt to describe the emotional experience of feeling guilty about mere, unearned advantages that one group has over another (see also Montada
& Schneider, 1989; Schmitt, Behner, Montada, Müller,
& Müller-Fohrbrodt, 2000).
Consistent with individual-level appraisal notions of
guilt, the experience of group-based guilt is characterized by three interrelated properties (Branscombe et al.,
2002; Iyer et al., 2004; McGarty et al., 2005). First, the
person must self-categorize as a member of a group that
has caused harm to another group. Second, the focus of
attention of guilt is on the self rather than the disadvantaged, that is, guilt will be experienced when the inequality is in-group focused and seen to be illegitimate
(Harth et al., 2008; Leach et al., 2002). Finally, guilt
motivates either avoidance or narrow attempts at restitution, mainly to assuage the advantaged group’s own
aversive state. Indeed, like personal guilt, there are at
least three ways that individuals can avoid the experience of group-based guilt: They can minimize the harm
that was done to the other group, question the appropriateness of guilt, and engage in argument about the
cost of apology (McGarty et al., 2005).
Group Processes and Outcomes
Given the etiology of guilt, it is likely that guilt will
maintain group boundaries between the disadvantaged
and advantaged, that is, because it is not possible for the
disadvantaged to feel guilt in relation to their own circumstances, guilt will effectively maintain an intergroup
context. The intergroup relationship associated with
guilt is depicted in Figure 2. The figure shows guilt
maintaining strong intergroup boundaries, but where
the advantaged group maintain their privileged status in
society (i.e., at the top). Thus, as far as the framework
provided by existing social identity models of helping
and solidarity (Reicher et al., 2006), guilt is missing one
of the key components (category inclusion) that is most
likely to promote effortful attempts to create genuine
social change.
This implies that the positive prosocial outcomes associated with guilt can be seen as an outcome of normative
considerations, vis-à-vis what is appropriate and consistent with the salient identity, or of strategic ones.
Indeed, Berndsen and Manstead (2007) have argued
that, rather than being an antecedent appraisal to guilt,
responsibility may actually be an outcome of the experience of guilt. To the extent that this guilt, and accompanying acceptance of responsibility, becomes associated
with the advantaged group membership, this is likely to
lead to forms of assistance motivated by group normative prescriptions related to “doing the right thing”
rather than genuine desires to achieve social equality.
Thus, we argue that guilt will be ill-equipped to challenge the existing social structure, and assistance will
inevitably flow in a top-down fashion (Figure 2).
Consistent with this analysis, group-based guilt has
been shown to be a useful, although limited, emotion in
motivating attempts to overcome intergroup inequality
or bring about collective action. Iyer et al. (2003) showed
that guilt associated with the unearned advantages
experienced by European Americans compared with
African Americans predicted the abstract goal of compensation but not affirmative action policies. Similarly,
McGarty et al. (2005) showed that guilt predicted apology to Indigenous Australians for historical mistreatment. Finally, Leach et al. (2006) showed that guilt is
associated with the abstract goal of compensation but
not at all associated with specific political actions designed
to redress injustice. Other work has shown only very
weak links with action designed to overcome inequality
(Harth et al., 2008) or no links at all with collective
action (Iyer et al., 2007). Thus, consistent with our
arguments above, it seems that guilt promotes apology
and compensation to the injured party (symbolic attempts
to reduce inequality) but does not form a platform for
ongoing opposition to inequality (Iyer et al., 2004;
Leach et al., 2006).
Iyer and colleagues have argued that because of its
conceptual self-focus, guilt will motivate often relatively
empty reparations in an attempt to stave off the unpleasant and aversive feelings that accompany guilt. Similarly,
Leach et al. (2006) have argued that its “dejected phenomenology and low action potential” (p. 1233) make
it a weak motivator of specific political actions. In an
interesting twist on these ideas, Schmitt and colleagues
(Schmitt et al., 2004; Schmitt, Miller, Branscombe, &
Brehm, 2008) showed that the relationship between collective guilt and taking action on behalf of a disadvantaged group, in this case women, was mediated by the
difficulty associated with making reparations. It was
found that, if the cost of making reparations was either
too easy or too difficult, then levels of group-based guilt
were low. That is, only when reparations are achievable
but moderate would levels of collective guilt be sufficient to promote action. Consistent with these findings,
recent work by Berndsen and McGarty (in press) found
perceived difficulty of making reparations for historical
harm and that this relationship was mediated by the
experience of group-based guilt. When reparations were
seen as impossible, group-based guilt levels were low.
This speaks to the idea that actions must be sufficiently,
but not substantially, effortful to alleviate guilt. In so
much as guilt can be understood to motivate action only
under very specific circumstances (that is, when the
required action is moderately effortful), these findings
also provide further insight into the work of Iyer, Leach,
and colleagues, who have found that guilt is associated
with the abstract goal of compensation (arguably a
moderate response to social inequality) and/or no action
at all (if the context of the inequality is such that change
is too difficult).
Overall, then, guilt seems to be associated with a social
cohesion approach, in general, and tokenism, as outlined
by Wright and colleagues (Wright et al., 1990), more
specifically. Because guilt maintains group boundaries
and the advantaged group generally has greater control
over resources, any prosocial outcomes may be largely
symbolic (Iyer et al., 2004) and may even serve to entrench
the subordination of the disadvantaged (as per Wright &
Lubensky, 2008; Wright & Taylor, 1998), while simultaneously relieving the consciences of the advantaged.
Sympathy has been defined as “heightened awareness
of another’s plight as something to be alleviated” (Wispé,
1986, p. 314). For Lazarus (1991), the core relational
theme for sympathy (or compassion, as he prefers to call
what we would term sympathy) involves “being moved
by another’s suffering and wanting to help” (p. 289). Its
appraisal pattern is characterized by a lack of self-involvement and an absence of blame for the plight (either
to ourselves or to the victim; Weiner, 1995). Similarly,
Feather’s work on the structural model of deservingness
(Feather, 2006; Feather & Nairn, 2005) suggests that
sympathy will occur when another person has suffered
an undeserved outcome (characterized by a positive
action and a negative outcome). Its key motivating
action tendency is to attempt to help the disadvantaged
and mitigate their suffering (Lazarus, 1991).
Consistent with this, sympathy has been implicated in
both interpersonal (Batson, 1991; Batson et al., 1988;
Betancourt, 1990; Dovidio, Schroeder, & Allen, 1990) and
intergroup prosocial behavior (Harth et al., 2008; Iyer et
al., 2003).1 More recent work by Batson and colleagues
(Batson, Chang, Orr, & Rowland, 2002; Batson et al.,
1997) increasingly blurs the interpersonal-intergroup
boundaries by exploring the effect of group memberships on sympathy and willingness to help. At a
group level, sympathy is conceptually understood to
have an other-focus in that it is based in a recognition
of the plight of the disadvantaged rather than the
person’s own distress at the situation, and it will arise
where there is an illegitimate but stable disadvantage
over which the victim has little control (Leach et al.,
2002). Harth et al. (2008) experimentally manipulated the structural conditions described by Leach et al.
(2002) and showed that sympathy was indeed increased by a focus on the suffering group and an illegitimate inequality.
Group Processes and Outcomes
Given that sympathy is premised on an “other” focus
(that is, the suffering of the other group) but it is still
not possible for the disadvantaged themselves to share
in feelings of sympathy (such feelings would, instead, be
akin to self-pity), it is likely that sympathy will also
maintain group boundaries between the disadvantaged
and advantaged. The intergroup relationship that is
associated with sympathy is depicted in Figure 2, where
sympathy actively maintains group boundaries but also
the group status hierarchy (advantaged group stays at
the top, disadvantaged group stays at the bottom). Thus,
as far as the framework provided by social identity
processes outlined above (Reicher et al., 2006), sympathy is also missing one of the key components (category
inclusion) that is most likely to promote concerted
attempts to create genuine social change.
This suggests that the positive prosocial outcomes
associated with sympathy can be seen as an outcome of
normative considerations vis-à-vis what is appropriate
and consistent with the salient identity. The experience
of sympathy does not imply responsibility for the disadvantage in the ways that guilt does; rather, sympathy
simply recognizes that the disadvantage exists, that it is
illegitimate, and that the disadvantaged were not themselves responsible for their plight (Feather & Nairn,
2005; Leach et al., 2002). As such, it is likely that where
there are strong feelings of sympathy and this becomes
contextually embedded in a salient identity, this will
motivate a range of attempts to help. Consistent with
these points, Harth et al. (2008, Study 3) showed that
group-based sympathy predicted support for equal
opportunity for an artificially created group, whereas
Iyer et al. (2003) showed that sympathetic emotion
motivates broad and concerted attempts to help disadvantaged Black Americans. Indeed, Iyer et al. (2003; see
also Iyer et al., 2004) have argued that the attentional
other-focus on the disadvantaged makes sympathy a
powerful motivator of prosocial behavior.
Recent work by Tarrant et al. (in press) has shown
the utility of directly invoking a sympathy in-group
emotion norm on prosocial behaviors. Note that their
research actually refers to empathy, but given that their
definition is more consistent with our conceptualization
of sympathy (see Note 1 and our arguments below), we
will review it briefly here. In particular, Tarrant et al.
showed that invoking a sympathy group norm by
informing participants that in-group members “typically respond to the experiences of other people with
high levels of compassion, tenderness and sympathy”
actively invoked feelings of sympathy among in-group
members and improved overall attitudes toward the
ostensible out-group. Tarrant et al.’s research, in particular combined with other evidence surrounding the utility
of outrage norms and prosocial behavior (Thomas &
McGarty, 2009), provides one clear instantiation of emotion norms to positively influence what Reicher et al.
(2006) would term the rhetorical meaning associated
with group memberships.
Despite the evidence that sympathy can promote
fruitful outcomes if it becomes contextually embedded
in an identity (Harth et al., 2008; Iyer et al., 2003), or
if a group emotion norm for sympathy is prescribed
(Tarrant et al., in press), it is likely that sympathy may
also have some limits in terms of its ability to motivate
genuine attempts to achieve greater social equality.
Specifically, given that there is still structural differentiation between groups (Figure 2), the assistance may
neglect to recognize the role and expertise of the disadvantaged group members they are seeking to help (a
recognition that would take place with genuine cooperation). In their political solidarity model of tripolar
intergroup power relations, Subašic´ et al. (2008) argue
that sympathy is likely to be an outcome where the
majority group has shared identity meaning with both
the (disadvantaged) minority group and the authority.
Under these conditions, the advantaged group has little
intention of challenging the authority (perhaps because
they meet other tactical majority group needs) but will
maintain feelings of sympathy for the disadvantaged
group. Put another way, they “feel sorry for them” but
are simultaneously committed to maintaining the status
quo. Consistent with these points, in the international
development context, Thomas (2005) showed that there were
high levels of sympathy in relation to the disadvantage
suffered by people in developing nations, but this was a
poor predictor of actual social and political action (see
also Schmitt et al., 2000).
Furthermore, because sympathy does not allocate
blame for the inequality (Leach et al., 2002), it is illequipped to direct group behavior in productive ways.
That is, cooperative social action to achieve equality
across groups involves directed, tactical behavior that
sympathy is unlikely to motivate. Given this overall
picture, we argue that sympathy is generally likely to be
associated with a social cohesion approach (Wright &
Lubensky, 2008) and, in some contexts, more specifically associated with top-down, paternalistic forms of
helping (as opposed to genuine cooperative efforts to
achieve social equality; see Figure 2). Nadler (2002;
Nadler & Halabi, 2006) has described the ways that
high status groups can use intergroup helping as a
method of maintaining social inequality. Nadler (2002)
distinguishes between autonomy-oriented help, which is
focused on providing recipients with tools to solve their
own problems and implies that the disadvantaged are
effective agents in overcoming their situation, and
dependency-oriented help, which provides recipients
with the full solution and implies that the disadvantaged are unable and incapable of contributing toward
solving their own problems. It is significant that Nadler
suggests that high status groups are more likely to provide dependency-oriented help when the disadvantage is
illegitimate, which, according to Leach et al. (2002), is
one of the antecedents of group sympathy. Overall,
Nadler’s (2002; Nadler & Halabi, 2006) analysis highlights the complexities involved in intergroup helping,
in particular where those in-group boundaries are maintained (as with sympathy) and are strongly meaningful
to the groups involved.
Sympathy and empathy are easy to confuse. Conceptually
differentiating sympathy from empathy and compassion
is difficult and perplexing, with many authors using the
emotion labels sympathy and empathy interchangeably,
despite important differences in the historical, etiological, and psychological processes implicated in each
(Gruen & Mendelsohn, 1986; Wispé, 1986). Indeed,
even in the context of the group emotion literature there
is a lack of clarity or consistency surrounding the two
terms, with some researchers preferring sympathy (e.g.,
Iyer et al., 2003; Leach et al., 2002) and others preferring empathy (e.g., Stürmer, Snyder, & Omoto, 2005;
Tarrant et al., in press) to describe overall feelings of
compassion and sympathy.
It is important to clarify the conceptual differences
between the two, because at the group level, it seems
likely that sympathy (with a conceptual other-focus;
Leach et al., 2002) and empathy (with a merging of selfother; Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce, & Neuberg, 1997)
are likely to shape group boundaries in different and
important ways. This then allows us to also consider
research that has been done into the role of empathy (as
we define it) in promoting prosocial behavior. Note that
it is beyond the scope of this article to reclassify all the
existing interpersonal, intergroup, sympathy, and empathy research into a new framework; instead, our goal is
to point out that the two emotions might be usefully
differentiated by exploring the categorization and/or
normative outcomes (as others have started to do;
Tarrant et al., in press). In particular, whereas sympathy
can be understood and conceptualized as a discrete
emotion (with accompanying appraisals and action tendencies), empathy is better understood as a set of cognitive processes (Wispé, 1986) that have attendant emotion
outcomes such as feelings of sympathy.
Davis (2004) provides an overview of the empathy literature and attempts to unite multiple competing definitions of the elusive construct, ultimately defining empathy
as “the psychological process that at least temporarily
unites the separate social entities of self and other” (p. 20)
(italics in original). He argues that empathy is made up of
both a set of cognitive processes taking place within an
observer as well as nonaffective and affective outcomes as
a result of these processes. According to Davis, sympathy for the suffering person is one of the emotion outcomes that can be observed as a part of the broader
empathy process, but an actual reproduction of the target’s feelings and personal distress is also a plausible
outcome of the empathy process. Overall, then, we
argue that sympathy can be understood as an emotion
that we experience for disadvantaged others, whereas
empathy is about vicariously placing oneself “in their
shoes” and experiencing the events with them. Thus,
the subjective feeling of sympathy, or compassion, is not
what differentiates the two. Rather, where the compassion
stems from a feeling of interchangeability, this is an empathy process; on the other hand, experiencing compassion
for the other but without the cognitive processes is sympathy (see Figure 2).
Another implication of this rationale is that empathy
may be much more about cognitive recategorization (in
the sense implied by self-categorization theory [Turner
et al., 1987] and the common ingroup identity model
[Gaertner et al., 1993]) to include the ostensible other in
the in-group, whereas sympathy maintains a functional
differentiation between groups, consistent with a conceptual other-focus on their suffering (Iyer et al., 2004). Put
another way, the experience of empathy may lead to an
inclusive in-group categorization (Figure 1b), but sympathy is more likely to stem from a salient social identity
(Figure 1a; see Harth et al., 2008). The differences between
these two emotions are depicted in Figure 2, where empathy is associated with a superordinate group, whereas
sympathy maintains group boundaries (and status differences). Indeed, Turner et al.’s (1987) original statement of
self-categorization theory stated the following:
H3: Depersonalization of self-perception is the basic
process underlying group phenomena [including] . . .
empathy. (p. 50)
Consistent with this point, Cialdini et al. (1997) showed
that, once self-other merging (what the authors called
oneness) had been controlled for, empathy as a subsidiary emotion had a negligible effect on helping behavior.
Furthermore, much of the empathy research uses perspective-taking interventions that arguably alter the
self-categorical relationships between self and disadvantaged other (e.g., Vescio, Sechrist, & Paolucci, 2003).
Thus, it is possible that many of the positive effects on
helping and cooperation of the perspective taking–empathy paradigm may be a product of a shift in sociocognitive perception (Cialdini et al., 1997; see also Galinsky,
Ku, & Wang, 2005; Tarrant et al., in press).
Recent empirical research by Stürmer and colleagues
also speaks to the point that altering the self-other categorical relationships is likely to affect the feelings of
compassion and sympathy (an empathy process). Stürmer,
Snyder, and Omoto (2005; see also Stürmer, Snyder,
Kropp, & Siem, 2006) argued that it should be easier to
feel empathy (defined as “feelings of compassion, concern or tenderness,” p. 533, which is consistent with our
view of sympathy) for an in-group member than an outgroup member because of the relative similarity to self of
an in-group target compared with an out-group target.
They showed that empathy was a stronger predictor of
long-term volunteerism when the recipient of help was an
in-group member (heterosexual compared with a homosexual out-group, Study 1), whereas a second study
showed that empathy was a significant predictor of
intention to spontaneously help a person with hepatitis
only when that person was an in-group member (Study
2). These findings suggest that the categorical relationship between the helper and the recipient can influence
the subjective experience of feelings of sympathy such
that it is easier to feel compassion for an in-group member (what we term empathy), although it is still possible
to feel sympathy for a member of another group (what
we term sympathy), in particular if group norms prescribe such feelings (Tarrant et al., in press).
Group Processes and Outcomes
Overall, then, where the person is an in-group member, this is likely to lead to heightened levels of empathic
emotion (the empathy process as discussed above); on
the other hand, where the person is not in the in-group,
this can lead to feelings of sympathy but is not premised
in the same process of shared identification (Figure 2).
Thus, empathy meets one of the key conditions set out
by Reicher et al. (2006) to promote intergroup helping.
In particular, it plausibly involves a recategorization of
advantaged and disadvantaged into a common, superordinate in-group. It follows that many of the positive,
strategic effects of empathy may stem from a perceived
interchangeability, such that “I will help you because
you are me” (Turner et al., 1987)—what Hornstein
(1976) called the “bonds of we” (p. 62). In other words,
it is likely that empathy will engender genuine feelings
of cooperation toward a shared goal of equality for
group members (Morrison, 1999).
Consistent with these points, empathy’s potential to
improve intergroup relations has been explored in a
number of contexts. Again, we note that it is beyond the
scope of this article to reclassify the existing literature
based on a post hoc deduction of whether or not the
experimental context also varied subjective group memberships. Instead, we limit our review to that research that
has tended to employ perspective-taking interventions in
invoking empathy. Finlay and Stephan (2000) showed
that reading vignettes about African Americans who had
suffered from discrimination, under instructions to empathize with the victim, eliminated the difference of evaluations of African Americans and Whites that were found in
control conditions (see also Stephan & Finlay, 1999).
Pedersen et al. (2004) showed that a lack of empathy, and
affective perspective taking in general, was predictive of
negative attitudes toward Indigenous Australians.
In a more nuanced twist on the empathy literature,
Stephan and Finlay (1999) employed the distinction
between cognitive and affective empathy in investigating
the role that empathy can play in improving intergroup
relations. They argue that the subtleties of empathy can be
used to achieve different goals, depending on the intergroup content. For example, if the goal is to create greater
understanding between social groups, Stephan and Finlay
suggest that cognitive empathy (perspective taking) would
be better suited than affective empathy; conversely, if
social action is the goal, then seeking to induce parallel
empathy (where the advantaged group member feels the
same emotions as the disadvantaged) should be employed.
Finally, as discussed above, Stürmer et al. (2005, Study 2)
showed that empathy was a significant predictor of intention to spontaneously help a person with hepatitis (but
only when that person was an in-group member).
On the other hand, empathy researchers have also
considered some of the pitfalls of an empathy approach
to intergroup relations, which have direct bearing on
issues of group processes and categorization (Boler,
1997; Stephan & Finlay, 1999). In particular, Stephan
and Finlay suggest that evoking compassion without
awareness that the advantaged themselves are implicated in the social forces responsible for the suffering
will do little to promote social equality. Furthermore,
Boler (1997) argued that inducing empathy “may spare the
reader of the emotions of rage, blame and guilt” (p. 260),
which will ultimately undermine its effectiveness in
issues of social justice, where these emotions are important and productive.
We argue that both of these points relate to an important need for functional differentiation of subgroups in
the context of a superordinate. That is, it may be that an
empathy approach may have many of the problems that,
for example, the common in-group identity approach has
had with prejudice reduction and social cooperation
(Brown & Hewstone, 2005; see Dovidio, Gaertner, &
Saguy, 2009, for a review; Hornsey & Hogg, 2000a,
2000b). In particular, Hornsey and Hogg (2000a, 2000b)
have argued that common in-group approaches can be
seen to convey an ideology of assimilationism, where the
focus is on reducing realistic and meaningful differences
between groups in efforts to create a more cohesive whole
(see also Wright & Lubensky, 2008). These authors have
concluded that to produce genuine cooperation that recognizes the strengths and diversity of both high- and lowstatus groups, it is important to maintain distinctive
subgroups (i.e., functional differentiation) within the
broader superordinate. Similarly, Mummendey and
Wenzel’s (1999) work on the dynamics of cooperation
suggests that using empathy-based approaches to invoke
a superordinate is a potentially problematic approach
given that it could ultimately give way to debate and conflict over the meaning of the superordinate.
Finally, where the superordinate group is not well
defined by group norms for prosocial behavior, there is
a risk that an empathy approach will still fall short of
meeting the conditions of Reicher et al.’s (2006) “effective categories.” Indeed, many solutions to creating
cooperative behavior between groups would necessarily
involve the higher order human-level category, which
has been shown to be useful in some contexts (e.g., promoting forgiveness; Wohl & Branscombe, 2004, 2005)
but problematic in others (e.g., as a moral defense;
Morton & Postmes, 2008; see also Hornsey & Hogg,
2000a). Indeed, it is possible that a human-level categorization “where we are all human beings” does not
reflect the reality in which perceivers operate, where
there are real and palpable differences between members in different groups (McGarty, 2006).
Overall, then, many instantiations of the empathy
process may usefully resituate group boundaries but
result in an intergroup inequality that is underintellectualized and/or overidealized. In Figure 2, note that the
resulting superordinate group boundaries are not bold,
as they are in other figures, reflecting its potential problems. As with Wright and Lubensky’s (2008) arguments
surrounding a social cohesion approach, neglecting the
importance of recognizing group differences and situating the groups in a new framework may mean that the
prospects for long-term change are remote because it
fails to address the real issue.
As suggested by Boler (1997) above, feelings of rage
can be a strong motivator of action to overcome inequality. Moral outrage, anger, rage, and other related
emotions are driven by appraisals of blame and attributions of responsibility for the harm done (Lazarus,
1991). In this article, we focus on the similarities and
differences between two forms of anger: self-focused
anger and moral outrage.
Anger and moral outrage are not easily distinguished,
given that both have a defining moral component (Batson
et al., 2007; Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999).
Batson et al. (2007) have explored the ways to differentiate the different forms of interpersonal anger and outrage
based on who, or what, the transgression was against.
They suggest that there are at least three forms of anger:
moral outrage, personal anger, and empathic anger. Moral
outrage arises when the transgression is against a moral
standard, personal anger arises when the transgression is
against one’s self, and empathic anger arises from seeing
someone one cares for treated unfairly. Batson et al.
argue that it is important to distinguish these other forms
of moral outrage and anger to better understand moral
emotion and behavior.
Anger and moral outrage can also be differentiated
at a group level by distinguishing between who the
blame for the transgression is directed at. In situations
of relative advantage, there is one form of prosocial
anger: a self-focused anger. Leach, Iyer, and Pedersen
(2006), based on the work of Tangney and colleagues
(Tangney, Hill-Barlow, et al., 1996; Tangney, Wagner,
Hill-Barlow, Marschall, & Gramzow, 1996), have
described self-focused anger, where anger is directed
inward at the advantaged group themselves for perpetrating and perpetuating the disadvantage (see also Iyer
et al., 2007). They note that this form of anger shares
a self-focus with guilt and thus can often arise in conjunction with guilt.
Group anger has mostly been explored in the context
of relative deprivation (rather than relative advantage,
which is the focus here). Anger is straightforward in this
case, where the disadvantaged group feels anger directed
at the advantaged group over their unearned and illegitimate privileges (Pennekamp, Doosje, Zebel, & Fischer,
2007; van Zomeren et al., 2004). However, Leach, Iyer,
and Pedersen (2007) showed that perceptions of relative
advantage and disadvantage may be more intensely
subjective than previously thought. In an extension of
the relative deprivation literature, Leach, Iyer, and
Pedersen (2007) have shown that groups that are
(objectively) structurally advantaged can experience
what the authors term inverted relative deprivation.
This is when the structurally advantaged experience
feelings of relative deprivation. For example, despite
plentiful evidence to the contrary, many non-Indigenous
Australians see their group as structurally disadvantaged compared with Indigenous Australians (based on
unequal distribution of welfare and the like). They
showed that this anger about their own group’s perceived deprivation predicted opposition to government
redress to Indigenous Australians. Given our emphasis
here on prosocial emotions as motivators for positive
social change, we are primarily interested in subjectively
perceived self-focused anger based on an acknowledgment of the real advantages of the privileged group.
Group Processes and Outcomes
Appraisal theorists have noted that anger generally
motivates a desire to attack (Lazarus, 1991). Indeed, the
high arousal that accompanies anger often motivates
attempts to actively challenge or confront the agents
responsible for the transgression, thus anger has been
called an action-oriented emotion (Leach et al., 2006).
Although Stürmer and Simon (in press) have expressed
doubts over the utility of anger in directing functional,
deliberate, and sustained forms of collective action,
Lazarus (1991) has pointed out that the coping process
associated with anger can also motivate a more prolonged and strategic attack on the agent responsible.
At a group level, different forms of anger have been
shown to motivate different forms of action strategies
(Iyer et al., 2007). We argue that one reason that might
underpin the different social and political action strategies is that the different forms of anger produce different outcomes in terms of the category boundaries,
attributions of responsibility, and the direction of tactical behavior. Specifically, we argue that anger directed
at an out-group (e.g., the sorts of anger that British
citizens direct at the American government for the occupation of Iraq; Iyer et al., 2007) will maintain group
boundaries, in particular if the group that is the target
of the anger is defensive of their actions. On the other
hand, self-focused prosocial anger (anger directed at the
in-group; Leach et al., 2006) could plausibly be shared
across categories (see Figure 2). In situations where the
in-group members are aware enough of their unearned
privilege to be angry at their group, it seems likely that
the disadvantaged group will also be angry at them.
Given that both parties direct the anger and blame at
the advantaged group, the action strategies are more
likely to be directed at the regulation of the in-group
(see Figure 2; Leach et al., 2006). This is likely to be a
very fruitful focus where the advantaged in-group members are the agents directly responsible for perpetuating
inequality. Consistent with these arguments, self-focused
prosocial anger has been shown to motivate support for
systemic compensation (Leach et al., 2006), an ingroup–directed strategy. Iyer et al. (2007) showed that
self-focused anger predicted political opposition to the
war in Iraq on three broad opposition strategies: compensation of Iraqi victims, confrontation of governments responsible, and advocating withdrawal. Leach
et al. (2006) concluded that self-focused anger could be
a very productive emotion, suggesting that it promotes
exactly “the constructive, self-corrective action that the
guilty want as a goal” (p. 1243). Overall, then, the ingroup–focused anger is likely to direct the attention of
both advantaged and disadvantaged toward strategies
that “fix” the misdeeds of the advantaged in-group.
Thus, self-focused anger meets many of the criteria
for Reicher et al.’s (2006) effective categories, where
both the advantaged and disadvantaged can join in feelings of anger at the advantaged group and mobilize
toward coordinated forms of action (Peters & Kashima,
2007). Where self-anger becomes a subjectively meaningful aspect of the identity, it prescribes normative and
strategic actions to try to reduce the inequality. Given
that the advantaged group, by definition, generally has
greater control over resources, this emotion could plausibly be very productive in situations where the advantaged are required to take responsibility for their role in
perpetuating the inequality (given, of course, that they
are happy to do so).
We think that there are two further aspects of selffocused anger that relate directly to its prospects for
promoting social change. The first relates to the fact
that it is self-focused. Iyer and colleagues (Iyer et al.,
2003; Iyer et al., 2004) have argued that guilt can motivate action out of a desire to rid the self of the aversive
feeling. Given that anger is also a physiologically arousing emotional reaction, it is possible that its self-focus
could also lead to a neglect of the plight of the disadvantaged. At the extreme, to the extent that group members
become caught up in their own self-loathing, this also
seems likely to undermine positive social actions.
Second, as Wright and Lubensky (2008) point out, it is
likely that those who feel angry at their own group have
distanced themselves psychologically from the (advantaged) in-group. Indeed, Kessler and Hollbach (2005)
found that identification with the in-group decreased when
anger was directed toward the in-group. Thus, there may
be a heightened potential for intragroup fracturing as
advantaged group members debate group responsibility.
Indeed, in the case of contentious social issues, it is plausible that those group members who willingly accept responsibility and feel angry at their own group could become
socially marginalized. In particular, if the (self-focused)
angry group is low in power, then marginalization seems
more likely, and the prospects for productive in-group
regulation (as in Figure 2) and sustainable social change
strategies become remote. Thus, it seems that unless there
are high levels of agreement and consensus surrounding
in-group responsibility, and the self-focused anger is widely
experienced among the advantaged group, that self-focused
anger may be a relatively unsustainable response as the
advantaged group fractures into subgroups along ideological fault lines.
Nevertheless, this fracturing need not be seen in a
negative light. It is possible that the self-focused anger
could form the catalyst for the formation of new groups,
where subgroups, defined by shared opinions about the
inequality, form around contentious social issues (as
outlined by McGarty, Bliuc, Thomas, & Bongiorno, in
press). That is, the meaningful groups in this context
become less about advantaged and disadvantaged and
more about pro and anti opinions. It is in these situations where subgroupings form along ideological (pro
and anti) fault lines that the opinion-based group concept outlined by Bliuc and colleagues seems particularly
useful (Bliuc, McGarty, Reynolds, & Muntele, 2007).
Indeed, other research by Musgrove and McGarty
(2008) has shown that these groups can come to be
characterized by specific, contrasting emotional reactions. Consistent with these points, Wright and Lubensky
(2008) see such fracturing as part of the solution of
competing social cohesion and social justice approaches.
Thus, where there is limited scope for self-focused anger
to motivate advantaged group regulation (because there
is no consensus among advantaged group members
about responsibility), self-focused anger may play an
important role in catalyzing other responses to social
Moral outrage can be clearly distinguished from the
(self-focused) anger discussed above based on where the
emotion implies that blame should be directed. According
to Batson et al. (2007), moral outrage is “anger provoked by the perception that a moral standard—usually
a standard of fairness or justice—has been violated” (p.
1272). Like anger in general, moral outrage is driven by
appraisals of blame and attributions of responsibility
for the harm done (Lazarus, 1991). Given these similarities with anger, it seems likely that the qualitative
experience of anger and outrage would be very similar
(where both are characterized by high levels of physiological arousal and an action-oriented reaction).
However, moral outrage can be conceptually distinguished from self-focused anger based on where blame is
attributed. Unlike self-focused anger where the blame
lies within, in the case of moral outrage, the blame is
directed outward (Iyer et al., 2004). In particular, moral
outrage directs blame at a third party (a government or
authority) or perceived system of inequality (Leach et al.,
2002; Montada & Schneider, 1989). To extend the
definition offered by Batson et al. (2007), then, we
define moral outrage as anger provoked by the perception that a moral standard—usually a standard of fairness or justice—has been violated by a third party
(government or authority) or system. Thus, moral outrage arises from the appraisal of a moral transgression,
and action is directed against either a third party,
authority, or system of inequality.
At a group level, Leach et al. (2002) suggest that
moral outrage will be most likely to occur when the
focus is on the disadvantaged (like sympathy) and the
inequality is illegitimate but unstable (that is, the position could change). Moral outrage is thus characterized
by a positive attitude toward the disadvantaged, with
the affective outrage directed at a third party (often a
governing authority), and an explicit other-focus.
Group Processes and Outcomes
We have argued above that self-focused anger can
traverse group boundaries and direct a normative focus
toward the regulation of the advantaged group. Moral
outrage is characterized by anger directed at a third
party, a government, or a system of inequality, and thus,
like anger, it is possible that moral outrage can be
shared by both advantaged and disadvantaged group
members. To the extent that both advantaged and disadvantaged group members share their perception of
the inequality as illegitimate, this implies a similar
worldview and could invoke a shared category membership. This idea is illustrated in Figure 2.
However, unlike anger, moral outrage tends to direct
blame at political agents or systemic unfairness; in other
words, the emotion is not directed at either group but a
third, shared out-group or authority (labeled in Figure 2
as “system, government, or third party”). To the extent
that the emotion becomes embodied within a contextually meaningful social identity (which both advantaged
and disadvantaged can share in), it can strongly affect
political action intentions. Consistent with these arguments, Montada and Schneider (1989) found moral
outrage to be a powerful motivator of prosocial behavior, in particular in the political realm (see also Schmitt
et al., 2000). Similarly, Wakslak, Jost, Tyler, and Chen
(2007) found that moral outrage is associated with
redistributive social policies, however, this could be
attenuated by exposure to system justifying ideologies.
Indeed, Wakslak et al. (2007) found that system justifying ideologies (e.g., “rags to riches” themes, which
reinforce the belief that a disadvantaged person could
achieve if he or she really wanted to) were negatively
associated with moral outrage, existential guilt, and
support for helping the disadvantaged. Thomas (2005;
Thomas et al., 2009) also showed moral outrage to be
a good predictor of intention to engage in antipoverty
action. Thus, there is good evidence that moral outrage
will direct collective, political forms of action.2
As well as political behaviors, there is also evidence
that group-based moral outrage will direct behaviors
specifically to restore a violated moral standard. Lodewijkz,
Kersten, and van Zomeren (2008) found that moral outrage and moral concerns influenced participation in protest, both directly and indirectly, where the outrage also
directs actions to reestablish moral community standards. Where moral outrage successfully creates an inclusive group (Figure 2), it is likely that it will create contexts
such that advantaged and disadvantage are included in
the moral community (Opotow, 2001; Opotow, Gerson,
& Woodside, 2005). Furthermore, it is also probable that
this new group will see issues of morality as central to its
self-definition and positive evaluation (see Leach,
Ellemers, & Barreto, 2007).
Overall, then, we suggest that moral outrage, by
directing attentional blame toward a third party or system, is characterized by two specific but interrelated
group outcomes. The first is the idea that moral outrage
can increase solidarity between group members. The
members of ostensibly advantaged and disadvantaged
groups come to share a worldview and to work for a
common cause (Peters & Kashima, 2007). It is worth
noting that, in the context of many social inequalities,
this is by no means an insignificant step in itself, as
many disadvantaged groups may find it difficult to
cease being angry at the privileged, advantaged group.
However, we argue that it will be very difficult to have
common cause (to work together to overcome inequality)
until this anger has been more productively reoriented
toward a shared anger at the system or third party that
is responsible for perpetuating the disadvantage.
Subašic´ et al. (2008) anticipate this idea when they
write, “Solidarity captures not only a sense of unity in
diversity and a coming together for a common cause
but also that the majority . . . comes to embrace the
cause as its own” (p. 331). This solidarity is premised
on a shared moral standard, thus, the group is both
morally inclusive (Opotow, 2001) but also sees issues
of morality as central to its self-definition (Leach,
Ellemers et al., 2007. It is significant, though, that this
group is also strengthened by organic solidarity (see
Haslam, 2001; Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab’s, 2005, use
of Durkheim’s term). That is, this is not just a group
defined by what they share; this is a group that arose
out of differentiation between groups. In such groups,
the focus is on the different experience and expertise
that group members can contribute to the collective as
a whole (Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab, 2005).
Second, because moral outrage embodies an explicit
recognition of the political context, this new identity
should be well equipped to take productive social
and political forms of action. Indeed, Simon and
Klandermans (2001) have argued that explicit recognition of an external enemy or agent is critical for the
development of a politicized identity. Politicized identities are understood to be best equipped to take social
and political forms of action because they have become
embedded in a political context (Simon & Klandermans,
2001; van Zomeren et al., 2008); thus, moral outrage
may play a powerful role in politicizing the identity
(Stürmer & Simon, in press).
Consistent with these points, Thomas and McGarty
(2009) showed that invoking a moral outrage emotion
norm for an antipoverty group significantly boosted
commitment to take action (on behalf of people in developing countries) compared with those who did not
receive the outrage norm. In keeping with our arguments
above, Thomas and McGarty (2009; see also Thomas
et al., 2009) argued that the outrage norm powerfully
shaped the relational meaning of the identity, making
particular sorts of social and political actions more consistent with, and normative for, the identity.
Where moral outrage comes to be successfully embedded in a meaningful identity that prescribes action
against an unfair system, it should be a powerful motivator of outcomes associated with strategies that Wright
and Lubensky (2008) would see as broad social justice
and social change strategies. This is true not least
because these attempts can also recognize the expertise
and capabilities held by the disadvantaged themselves. In
this way, moral outrage may be a potential solution to
the problems of paternalism raised by Nadler (2002).
In the section above, we have outlined the three categories of primary prosocial emotions—guilt; sympathy and
empathy; and anger and outrage—and their prospects in
terms of motivating action among members of advantaged groups. We drew, in particular, on recent advances
in the social identity literature that have outlined the
most effective categories in promoting social helping,
solidarity, and rescue among members of privileged groups
(Reicher et al., 2006). Furthermore, drawing on Wright
and Lubensky’s (2008) distinction between a social cohesion and social change approach to equality, we argued
that guilt, sympathy, and empathy are more in keeping
with strategies that promote social cohesion, whereas
self-focused anger and outrage are more likely to be associated with social change strategies. It is worth briefly
summarizing our arguments before discussing further
theoretical and practical implications. Table 1 usefully
captures aspects of our argument for each emotion.
We argued that group guilt maintains group boundaries (category exclusion) between advantaged and disadvantaged group members. Because guilt assigns
responsibility for the disadvantage to the advantaged
in-group, this is likely to foster normative forms of
prosocial action that acknowledge the responsibility.
However, because guilt is also self-focused (Iyer et al.,
2004) and easy to mitigate if reparations are too easy or
difficult (Schmitt et al., 2008), it is also likely that it will
result in normative and strategic actions that aim mainly
to assuage the aversive feeling (see Hopkins et al., 2007;
van Leeuwen, 2007). Overall, we suggested that guilt
could likely become associated with tokenistic, topdown forms of symbolic action (Iyer et al., 2004;
McGarty et al., 2005) as group members assuage their
aversive state but do not actually strive to achieve
greater equality.
Like guilt, sympathy will also maintain group boundaries but places a conceptual focus on the suffering of the
disadvantaged (Iyer et al., 2003; Leach et al., 2002). In
situations where feelings of sympathy are strong, it is
likely that they will motivate normative helping actions,
in particular because the disadvantaged themselves are
not responsible for their plight. However, because of the
structural differentiation that maintains group boundaries and status differences, it is also possible that sympathy may promote a neglect of the experience and expertise
of the disadvantaged group members themselves. We
argued that, overall, this etiology makes sympathy more
prone to the problems of paternalistic helping raised by
Nadler (2002; Nadler & Halabi, 2006).
We also used our analysis of group-level processes as
one means of differentiating between the often-confused
emotion labels of sympathy and empathy. We suggested
that it is indeed important to differentiate the two, in
particular at the group level, because it seems plausible
that the two emotions shape group boundaries in different ways. In particular, it seems that empathy is an
outcome of a merging of group boundaries into a single,
superordinate group (category inclusion), whereas sympathy maintains separate group categories. Thus, empathy can motivate genuine attempts at cooperation
because the advantaged and disadvantaged are united
by a shared group membership (category inclusion) and
thus, “I will help you because you and I are one” (as per
TABLE 1: Overview of the Classes of Prosocial Emotions, the Sorts of Group Processes They Will Be Associated With, and the Social
Strategies They Are Likely to Promote
for action
self-focused; based
in the perception
that the
disadvantage is
illegitimate and
the in-group is
maintains group
advantaged and
only advantaged
group can feel
when normatively
embedded, it’s
likely to prescribe
attempts at
reparation (e.g.,
attributes blame to
the advantaged
in-group, so it
may represent
action as a
strategic way to
reduce tension
associated with
motivates symbolic
action that may,
or may not, be
sufficient to
reduce inequality
Sympathy for
other-focused; based in
perceptions of
illegitimacy but does
not allocate blame
for disadvantage
maintains group
boundaries between
advantaged and
disadvantaged; only
advantaged group
can feel sympathy
when normatively
embedded, it’s likely
to prescribe wideranging attempts to
help; however, these
actions are likely to
be for the
rather than with
is focus on the
disadvantaged other;
may strategically
engage in sweeping
forms of action
simply to relieve the
suffering of the
motivates wide-ranging
forms of action to
alleviate suffering;
because it does not
attribute blame or
recognize expertise
of disadvantaged
themselves, these
actions can
sometimes be
misdirected or
Empathy with
cognitive process
uniting self and
other; associated with
affective outcomes
similar to sympathy
and compassion
merges group
boundaries such that
advantaged and
disadvantaged are
included in
superordinate group
given that the
inclusive category
may not be well
defined, it is possible
that there will not be
clear norms for
supportive action
empathy renders the
disadvantaged into a
common in-group;
thus, category
interests are likely to
be strategically
represented based on
motivates wide-ranging
forms of action to
alleviate suffering
because “you and I
are one”; may be
or idealized; longterm change may be
remote because it
does not address the
real issue or
productively direct
Self-Focused Anger
self-focused; based in
the appraisal that
the disadvantage is
illegitimate and the
in-group is
merges group
boundaries as
advantaged and
disadvantaged share
in anger toward
advantaged group
when normatively
embedded, it’s likely
to prescribe actions
that focus on the
regulation, or
behavior change, of
the advantaged
attributes blame to the
in-group, so it may
represent actions as
a strategic way to
reduce the tension
associated with
motivates actions
designed to regulate,
or change, the
advantaged group;
useful in situations
where the
inequality; potential
for subgrouping
within advantaged
population as they
contest responsibility
Moral Outrage
other-focused; based in
perceptions of
illegitimacy for which
a third party or system
of inequality is
merges group boundaries
as advantaged and
disadvantaged share in
outrage toward a third
when normatively
embedded, it’s likely to
prescribe social and
political action to
subvert the illegitimate
system, government, or
third party
outrage renders the
disadvantaged into a
common moral
in-group; thus,
category interests are
likely to be
represented based on
discourse of solidarity
and moral imperative
motivates political and
social forms of action
to reduce
moralistic element
provides additional
rhetorical device in the
fight for social justice
Guilt Sympathy Outrage
Turner et al., 1987; see also Simon, Pantaleo, &
Mummendey, 1995). However, we also raised some problems with an empathy approach that have been explored
in the cooperation, prejudice reduction literature (Brown
& Hewstone, 2005; see Dovidio et al., 2009, for a
review; McGarty et al., 2005; Mummendey & Wenzel,
1999). Perhaps most critically, where this empathyinduced superordinate (often a human-level identity)
does not contain clear norms for deliberate action, it is
likely that such an approach will fail to meet the other
criteria for “effective” categories (Reicher et al., 2006).
Indeed, such an approach can cause conflict rather than
induce cooperation (Mummendey & Wenzel, 1999).
Finally, we explored the differences between selffocused anger and moral outrage (anger at the system,
government, or third party) as two similar reactions to
injustice and inequality. Both self-focused anger (Leach
et al., 2006) and moral outrage have the potential to
traverse group boundaries to create a common ingroup, but in different ways. Self-focused anger can be
shared by both advantaged and disadvantaged groups
(category inclusion), but forms of action are normatively directed toward the regulation of the responsible
advantaged group. We argue that this may be productive in some contexts and among some subgroups but
could also lead to group fracturing along opinion-based
fault lines (McGarty et al., in press).
On the other hand, advantaged and disadvantaged
groups can both share in feelings of moral outrage over
the inequality (category inclusion), but this emotion
directs action against a third party or agent (category
norms). As such, it is likely to precipitate strategies
related to social and political action, strategies designed
to subvert the unfair ‘system’. It is significant that, when
combined with relevant meaningful identities, moral
outrage is likely to play a critical role in politicizing the
identity and such that it is more prepared for the struggle in which it is embedded (Simon & Klandermans,
2001; Stürmer & Simon, in press), and the resulting
identity is likely to be strengthened by its diversity
(organic solidarity; Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab, 2005)
and moral inclusiveness (Opotow, 2001).
Given this review, which emotion is likely to be most
productive in promoting genuine attempts to achieve
greater social equality among members of advantaged
groups? Predictably, the answer is, “It depends.” It is
clear from our review that we view moral outrage and
to a lesser extent self-focused anger as promising emotional reactions to promote wide-ranging social and
political behaviors. We argued at the beginning of this
article that we were particularly interested in those
social strategies that were likely to achieve greater
social equality for disadvantaged groups (rather than,
for example, simply elevating individuals). In pursuing
this focus, we acknowledge that we may have been
unnecessarily pessimistic and dismissive about the role
of other emotions and other social strategies in promoting greater social equality between groups. Here,
we note that it is possible and plausible that other
emotional reactions will have a useful role to play in
motivating advantaged groups to begin mending social
injustices depending on the context, and trajectory, of
the inequality.
Let us take an example to illustrate our point. The
2008 apology from the Australian government to the
Indigenous Australian Stolen Generations was premised
on years of debate about group guilt and responsibility
for the actions of a previous generation (Lecouteur &
Augoustinos, 2001; McGarty et al., 2005). Although
critics of the apology labeled the action as merely symbolic, it is also true that, as a starting point, this prosocial strategy was extremely meaningful to many members
of the disadvantaged Indigenous Australian group.
A recent survey showed that a high percentage of
Indigenous Australians rated the apology as “very important” to Indigenous people (93%) and for improving
relations with other Australians (80%; Australian
Reconciliation Barometer, 2009). That is, this symbolic
prosocial act, motivated around a national discourse of
guilt (Lecouteur & Augoustinos, 2001), was ultimately seen
as worthwhile and beneficial by many of the disadvantaged group members. Thus, we acknowledge that there
is an important place for social strategies that concentrate on symbolic reparation and not just those strategies
that focus on concrete attempts to reduce inequality.
Another possibility is that different emotions might
become more or less important, as efforts to create
greater social equality face different challenges over the
course of a movement. As we noted in our discussion of
self-focused anger, it may be that some emotions provide a useful catalyst for the formation of supportive
social movements. Similarly, in the context of the disadvantage of Indigenous Australians, it is possible that
guilt played a positive role in initiating the symbolic act
of apology; however, this must now transition into
other forms of practical action (potentially motivated
by other emotional reactions) to achieve greater social
equality for Indigenous Australians. Thus, such emotions (self-focused anger and guilt) might play a useful
role in initiating social action. On the other hand, we
have elsewhere argued that moral outrage is one emotion that is more likely to be associated with sustainable
attempts to overcome inequality (Thomas et al., 2009).
As argued in our discussion of moral outrage, it is likely
that such an emotion will fruitfully restructure intergroup boundaries such that the advantaged and disadvantaged can work together with common cause. The
idea of an emotion trajectory, characterized by consecutive emotional reactions, suggests that there may be a
complementary, transient place for many of the emotions discussed here in the long battle to achieve social
equality for disadvantaged groups.
Overall, then, the implication is that people seeking
to transform apathy into movement among members of
advantaged groups would do well to give careful consideration to the sorts of prosocial strategies that they
are seeking to promote and to the overall trajectory of
the movement. Reicher, Haslam, and Hopkins (2005)
have labeled the leaders who have the ability to shape
and transform groups (for good and evil) entrepreneurs
of identity. This article, by exploring the ways that emotion affects these endeavors, suggests that it would be
fruitful to attend to emotions as a strategy for creating
contexts of inclusion and exclusion, shaping normative
and rhetorical meaning (Thomas & McGarty, 2009),
and promoting category interests.
We have explored the ways in which emotions can
traverse group barriers but have focused throughout
mainly on the emotional reactions that advantaged group
members can experience (that is, prosocial emotion). One
literature we have not touched on is the burgeoning literature on dehumanizing emotion and infrahumanization, which has explored the ways that the manner in
which the disadvantaged express themselves will change
helping strategies. Indeed, there is now evidence to suggest that the sorts of emotions that a distressed or disadvantaged person (that is, a person requiring help) uses
will have an effect on whether help is forthcoming or not
(Vaes, Paladino, Castelli, Leyens, & Giovanazzi, 2003).
It is beyond the scope of this article to explore this literature here, but suffice to say that these findings suggest
that a disadvantaged group will have a better chance of
eliciting help if its members express themselves in terms
of uniquely human, secondary emotions (e.g., anguish
rather than anger; Cuddy, Rock, & Norton, 2007; Vaes,
Paladino, & Leyens, 2002).
The research of Leyens and colleagues (Leyens et al.,
2001; Vaes et al., 2002) raises interesting questions
about the role of human-level categories in emotional
reactions and intergroup relations. In our analysis of
empathy, we documented some concerns that have been
raised in the context of research on the common ingroup identity model, superordinate categories, and
cooperation. In particular, we suggested that where a
superordinate identity does not have clear norms for
action, it can fall short of being an effective category
and even promote conflict over superordinate group
norms (Mummendey & Wenzel, 1999). Similarly, work
by Morton and Postmes (2008) has shown the ways
that human category norms can be flexibly used to promote both prosocial and hostile social behaviors.
This raises the following questions: What are the
social groups that are most likely to be effectively implicated in the sorts of group emotion and social identity
processes discussed here? What is the nature of those
groups who have a genesis in a shared emotional experience (Figure 1b)? Similarly, which groups are most
likely to facilitate productive prosocial emotional reactions (Figure 1a)? Elsewhere, Bliuc, McGarty, and colleagues have put forward the opinion-based group
concept as a solution to some of the complex problems
associated with superordinate group memberships and
cooperation (McGarty, 2006) and understanding collective action (McGarty et al., in press). Consistent with
these points, we argue that opinion-based groups might
be fruitfully deployed to develop understanding of the
dynamic processes of social identity in group emotion.
Opinion-based groups are psychologically meaningful groups, in the sense suggested by self-categorization
theory (Turner et al., 1987), but where these groups are
based on shared opinions (Bliuc et al., 2007). McGarty
et al. (in press) argue that one of the useful features of
the opinion-based group concept is that it can be used
to explain collective efforts to change circumstances
even in relatively spontaneous, mundane, minimally
political contexts (such as students joining together to
protest over a change of examination format). Indeed,
McGarty et al. point to the ways in which protest can
emerge rapidly and in particular pockets of a community. Here, we take this argument one step further, arguing that a shared emotional reaction may form the basis
for emergent opinion-based group formation, where
people’s attention is captured first by their shared emotional reactions, and they then join together to seek
redress (Figure 1b; see also the arguments of Peters &
Kashima, 2007; van Zomeren et al.’s, 2004, analysis of
social opinion support). On the other hand, the other
work of Musgrove and McGarty (2008) has shown that
opinion-based groups can become associated with emotional reactions in a more permanent way, and emotional reactions (to the War on Terror) are shaped by
membership of particular (pro and anti) opinion-based
groups (as in Figure 1a). Thus, we argue that opinionbased groups are well placed to capture the nuances of
emotion triggering group formation, and vice versa.
Furthermore, we suggest that opinion-based groups
meet many of the criteria set out by Reicher et al. (2006)
for effective categories. In particular, because members
of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups can belong
to opinion-based groups, they too can foster a shared,
inclusive categorization (McGarty, 2006), which is Reicher
et al.’s first criteria. In this context, clear inequalities
between advantaged and disadvantaged members of the
opinion-based group can only increase the salience of
the inequality and boost (opinion-based) collective commitment to act. Furthermore, opinion-based groups,
based on support for, or opposition to, various social
issues (e.g., pro-choice, anti-war), have clear norms for
action (Reicher et al.’s second criteria). Finally, because
opinion-based groups are formed around contentious
social issues, then achieving the group’s pro-change goals
is a clear strategic priority (Reicher et al.’s third criteria).
Overall, then, we suggest that opinion-based groups
can readily meet many of the conditions put forward for
effective categories (Reicher et al., 2006). The opinionbased group interaction method described by Gee, Khalaf,
and McGarty (2007) and Thomas and McGarty (2009)
provides an experimental model of how these categories
can be sustained through processes of consensualization
and agreement. Consistent with our conceptualizations
of social identity and group emotion as dynamic and
iterative, the implication from this work is that categories
become instrumental and effective through ongoing negotiation and consensus (see also Postmes, Haslam, &
Swaab, 2005). Our ongoing work explores the ways that
emotions can shape opinion-based groups, and vice
versa, in particular toward antipoverty social action (see
Thomas et al., 2009).
This article has attempted to provide novel ways of
conceptualizing and understanding the complex sources
and implications of prosocial emotions in intergroup
relations. To that end, we have structured our review of
prosocial emotion around two key frameworks. The
first framework was based on the work of Wright and
Lubensky (2008), who have explored the distinction
between social cohesion and social change strategies.
The second structure related to the work of Reicher
et al. (2006), who crystallized three conditions for effective categories. Overall, we have argued that these
frameworks may provide useful ways of conceptualizing commonly discussed emotions at a group level but
also novel ways of structuring the existing literature
based on the likelihood that the emotions will produce
effective forms of social justice action.
We acknowledge that we have necessarily limited our
analysis based on these frameworks. In particular, we
have limited our analysis to the prosocial emotions of
guilt, sympathy, and outrage. However, it is also true
that there may be other prosocial emotions that are also
worthy of investigation. For example, the emotions of
pride and hope may have much to offer people seeking
to create inclusive, agentic movements defined by positive affect (rather than more negative feelings of guilt or
anger; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Leach and
colleagues (Harth et al., 2008; Leach et al., 2002) have
explored pride, as experienced by an advantaged group
in relation to another group’s disadvantage, and found
it to be associated with negative forms of social behavior
(in-group favoritism and protectionism). Although we do
not dispute these findings, we wish to put forward a view
of pride that is very different.
Instead, we propose that pride has the potential to be
implicated in creating a positive orientation toward
future relations between groups. That is, where groups
(advantaged and disadvantaged) can share in feelings of
pride in relation to actions taken to alleviate disadvantage, this could engender a number of positive outcomes
including an inclusive categorization and motivating
efficacy beliefs. Similarly, hope is also characterized by
a positive, energizing phenomenology and is understood
to be central to coping processes because it requires
“the belief in the possibility of a favourable outcome”
(Lazarus, 1999, p. 653; Snyder, 2002). Indeed, some
scholars have begun to theorize the role of collective
hope in overcoming intractable conflict (Bar-Tal, 2001),
fostering empowerment among marginalized groups (J.
Braithwaite, 2004; Courville & Piper, 2004) and social
inclusion (V. Braithwaite, 2004b; see V. Braithwaite,
2004a, for a review). Although we have not considered
this range of more positive emotions in this review, we
argue that these positive emotions are extremely worthy
of further consideration by social psychology.
We have also limited our analysis to that of discrete
emotions rather than exploring the dynamic ways that
emotions might arise consecutively (one after the other)
to create a more transitional trajectory of effective
social action (although this is an idea we discuss above).
We mentioned in the introduction that we are concerned
that much of the group emotion literature does not sufficiently account for the unfolding, and dynamic, nature
of intergroup relations. We acknowledge, however, that
with prevailing experimental methodologies (e.g., selfreported responses to scenarios), it can indeed be difficult to capture this dynamism. Similarly, our analysis
generally glossed over important distinctions between,
for example, behavioral intention and behavior (e.g.,
Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977), and the conditions under which variable emotional reactions will
indeed lead to behavior (see our discussion of self-focused anger for an exception). Using group interaction
methodologies to explore group processes and complex
social change questions might provide a useful tool that
allows greater realism (Thomas & McGarty, 2009),
whereas greater inclusion of behavioral measures in
social psychological research might help clarify differences between intention, emotion, and behavior (van
Zomeren et al., 2008).
Nadler and Liviatan (2002) have argued that the role
of emotional processes is important to consider in perpetuating and overcoming conflict. In this article, we
have argued that this is equally true of the prosocial
action among advantaged group members. Where emotions create the possibility of category inclusion and
provide group members with facilitative normative meanings, it seems that the potential is greatest to transform
apathy into movement.
1. Batson and colleagues actually refer to empathy in their work on
interpersonal helping, although they acknowledge that there are problems with the label (Batson et al., 2003; cf. Gruen & Mendelsohn, 1986).
Other authors have commented that Batson et al.’s notion of empathy is
more consistent with traditional notions of sympathy (see Gruen &
Mendelsohn, 1986, or Wispé, 1986, for a discussion), so we do not think
it is erroneous to report their research under the heading of sympathy
given our efforts later in the article to differentiate the two emotions.
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measured outrage in the context of perceptions of fraternal deprivation (e.g., “To what extent does the treatment of the female sales
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Emma F. Thomas recently completed a PhD in social psychology at
the Australian National University. The current article formed a part
of her doctoral research. She is currently working as a research associate in the Centre for Excellence in Policing and Security in Regulatory
Institutions Network at the Australian National University.
Craig McGarty is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social
ResearchInstitute at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia.
He is author of Categorization in Social Psychology (1999), and the
editor of The Message of Social Psychology (1997) and Stereotypes as
Explanations (2002).
Ken Mavor is a lecturer in the School of Health and Psychological
Sciences at the Australian National University. His research interests
include the relationship between religious identity, social attitudes and
social action; categorization processes; and research methods.

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