The benefits of empathy: When empathy may sustain cooperation in social dilemmas – European Journal of Social Psychology

Cooperation in social dilemmas is often challenged by negative noise, or unintended errors, such that the actual behavior is less cooperative than intended—for example, arriving later than intended for a meeting due to an unusual traffic jam.

The present research was inspired by the notion that doing a little more for one’s interaction partner, which may be movitvated by empathetic feelings, can effectively reduce the detrimental effects of “negative noise,” or unintended incidents of noncooperation.

Consistent with hypotheses, negative noise exhibited detrimental effects on cooperation, but such effects were absent when empathy-motivated cooperation was present. We conclude that empathy has broad benefits for social interaction, in that it can be an effective tool for coping with misinterpreted behaviors, thereby maintaining or enhancing cooperation.