Anger as effective as sympathy in motivating people to volunteer

Researchers found anger to be equally motivating to sympathy. Professor Robert Bringle from Appalachian State University stated, “Although there are many reasons why individuals help, empathy is prominent. Empathy occurs when an individual has a similar response to a suffering person and this is usually sadness. Empathic sadness motivates a person to help in order to alleviate the other person’s suffering and to alleviate one’s own discomfort.”

“This research focused on circumstances when empathy elicits anger. Whereas anger is usually seen as evoking an aggressive response, we wanted to analyze empathic anger as a basis for helping. This seems most likely to occur when the attribution is made about the unfairness of the circumstances that caused the victim’s suffering.”

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Empathy and anger are not mutually exclusive

The study shows that those scoring high on empathic anger were publicly energized and more likely to support community projects and organizations as a way to affect change. A second study showed those reporting high empathic anger were not aggressive people, but were concerned and altruistic people who rejected discrimination and inequality among groups.

Professor Bringle added: “This research adds a new dimension to motives for volunteering. Empathic anger is probably a more extreme or intense motive than others that have been described or studied in the previous research on volunteering and prosocial behavior.”

“By developing our understanding of empathic anger we can better appreciate why some volunteers are motivated to assist certain social causes. The new scale provides opportunities for future research to study the nature of empathic anger, its development, and its journey across time.”

Story Source:

British Psychological Society (BPS). “Anger motivates volunteers as much as sympathy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 May 2014. <>.


About the Author

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping people learn anger management, stress management and the latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions.  Dr. John was recently featured in the documentary, Skewed, by director Paola Bossola. Skewed looks at how violent media (first person shooter video games, song lyrics, TV and movies) are negatively impacting our health and development. Dr. John also helps clients discover optimal human functioning via positive psychology. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. John has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 13 years. John is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches executives to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology. John hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area. Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management, to executive coaching. He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web ( His new video blog, Real Emotion, Real Life is on scientifically-proven tools for anger management and stress management. Dr. John also has a new website teaching positive psychology at


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