Altruism born of suffering among emerging adults in Northern Ireland

Laura K. Taylor, Jeffrey R. Hanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to explore altruism born of suffering (ABS), a theory that explains how the experience of suffering within one’s own life may result in the motivation to help others, even outgroup members.

Participants were 186 emerging adults (63 per cent female, 37 per cent male; 69 per cent Protestant, 41 per cent Catholic; average age =21.3, SD=2.57 years old) in Northern Ireland, a setting of protracted intergroup conflict. Participants were randomly assigned to an in/outgroup condition, read four types of adversity that occurred to same-sex victim(s), and indicated their empathetic response and how much they would like to help the victims.

Moderated mediation analyses revealed that empathy for the victim partially mediated the impact of perceived harm on desire to help; moreover, recent negative life events strengthened the link between harm and empathy. The path between empathy and helping was stronger in the outgroup compared to the ingroup condition.

Practical implications
These findings support ABS, highlighting empathy as a key factor underlying more constructive intergroup relations in a divided society.

This paper extends previous research on ABS by focusing on a post-accord context. The value of the current analyses demonstrate the important role of fostering empathy to promote outgroup helping in settings of divisive group identities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-169
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
Issue number3
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2018


  • Northern Ireland
  • empathy
  • altruism
  • prosocial behavior
  • helping behavior
  • intergroup conflict


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