Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Empathy is frequently presented as the solution to intolerance; indeed, President Obama has cited an ‘empathy deficit’ in the conversation surrounding civil rights for minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community (Obama, 2006 ). However, an emerging psychological literature offers a “darker side” of empathy, which accounts for the parochial forces influencing empathic-motivations. Across two studies, the present thesis aims to further understand the parochial nature of empathy in the context of ideologically-based attitudinal polarization. In the first experiment, participants read about a hypothetical instance of heterosexual date rape, and provided their opinions on the male and female targets. Results supported an empathy-driven polarization model, which shows that the tendency for participants who endorse rape myths to blame the female target and support the male was even more pronounced among those scoring high in dispositional empathy. The second study aimed to experimentally manipulate the salience of rape myth beliefs; however, this was accomplished to limited effect. Importantly, the results replicated the previous pattern of findings with respect to empathy-driven polarization. Implication of this model, and future directions are discussed.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Alan Lambert

Committee Members

Michael Strube, Joshua Jackson


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