The Impact of Social-Cognitive Categorization of Others on Implicit and Explicit Empathy


1 Department of Psychology & Educational Sciences University of Tehran

2 Department of Psychology & Educational Sciences Shahid Beheshti University


The current study was conducted with the aim of examining the impact of social-cognitive categorization of a victim of aggression on the degree of empathy individuals feel toward him. The innocent victim categorized as an in-group member was hypothesized to evoke the highest empathy, whereas the guilty victim belonging to an out-group was expected to be empathized with the least of all. Participants were 104 Iranian female adults who were sampled form the population of female students at the psychology department of the University of Tehran during 2012-2013. They were randomly assigned to four experimental groups and asked to read scenarios in which one character was the victim of aggression by another. Victims varied with regard to in-group-out-group membership (Iranian vs. Saudi Arabian) and perceived morality (guilty vs. innocent). Participants’ explicit and implicit empathies with the victim were assessed using explicit questions and Implicit Association Test, respectively. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze the data. Social-cognitive categorization of the victim had a significant effect on implicit, affective and motor empathies. The innocent Iranian was the victim empathized with the most, while the innocent Arab and the guilty Arab received the same degree of empathy. Participants empathized more with the guilty Iranian than the innocent Arab. Cognitive empathy was not influenced by social-cognitive categorization of the victim. The present findings suggest that compared to perceived morality, the in-group-out-group dimension had a more noticeable impact on empathy, particularly those kinds of empathy more dependent on the evolutionarily ancient systems of the brain.