People sympathise when someone has same problem as a friend

August 23rd, 2008 - 3:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 23 (IANS) People tend to be more sympathetic to others suffering from the same misfortune as a friend, a new study has found.Authors Deborah A. Small and Uri Simonsohn from the University of Pennsylvania examined the driving forces behind the phenomenon where people become more sympathetic when a friend or loved one falls ill or suffers some other misfortune.

“The sympathy inherent to a close relationship with a victim extends to other victims, leading benefactors to prefer charities that help those suffering from the misfortunes that have affected their friends and loved ones,” wrote the authors.

The authors conducted three studies that confirmed that people are more sympathetic to victims suffering the same misfortune as a loved one than victims of other misfortunes.

In the first study, they interviewed strangers in a railway station about their feelings about Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and job layoffs. They found that people who were closer to someone who had experienced one of the misfortunes were more sympathetic to the victims of those, but not to victims of the other misfortunes.

Surprisingly, in subsequent studies the authors were able to recreate this phenomenon where friendships were newly created and the misfortune was losing $10 that had just been given to the participants. After people became “friends” in the study, they were more likely to donate money to a friend who lost money.

The authors noted that participants’ sympathy did not increase overall, just for victims of the same misfortune. “So friendship with a victim does not simply make people more sympathetic; rather it directs their sympathy to others with the same misfortune as their friend or loved one,” they explained.

The authors’ findings may help charities refine their fundraising strategies. “If, as our results show, a relationship created in the lab in a few minutes can significantly increase giving, then surely a charity can inspire a connection between a victim and a benefactor through its solicitations,” they write.

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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