Did the general public’s heartfelt response to the victims of Superstorm Sandy impact the actions of local elected officials? A new research study intends to answer that question by examining how empathy affects political behavior.
Stanley Feldman, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science and associate director of the Center for Survey Research, was awarded a $114,993 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Social and Economic Sciences for the study, titled “Empathy and Social Welfare.” Center for Survey Research Director Leonie Huddy is the co-principle investigator for the yearlong research period, which began September 4.
The project will look at how humanitarian crises like civil wars, ethnic conflict, poverty, violence and natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy, influence public opinion and ultimately political agendas. Specifically, researchers will investigate one major factor not yet studied adequately — empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what others experience emotionally. Psychology research shows that people’s ability to empathize differs, potentially affecting how they respond to a crisis. But empathy for those in need can conflict with other beliefs and values like limiting government involvement and belief in legal procedures.
“Empathy and Social Welfare” will focus on how empathy and value systems may influence political response to the large number of children crossing the U.S. border from Central America. Investigators will use different news stories to alter the values people apply to this humanitarian crisis, and determine how this changes the impact of empathy on their opinions. This research will shed light on factors that influence people’s attitudes toward those in need across a variety of political situations.
For more on Professor Feldman’s work, please visit his web page.
— Shelley Catalano