Prosocial reactions to traumatic experiences
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When will people empathize with and help others? The goal of this research was to determine whether a prosocial orientation results from experiencing trauma. Recent research suggests there may be positive consequences to suffering. Under certain conditions, such as when people experience post-traumatic growth, past suffering can lead to personal benefits. Building on this body of research, one aim of this thesis was to investigate the impact of subjective traumatic suffering and psychological distress on post-traumatic growth and empathy. The second aim of this research was to examine whether objective trauma severity predicts post-traumatic growth. Finally, the third aim of this research was to examine the relationship between post-traumatic growth and empathy and the simultaneous impact of these variables on a prosocial orientation. Study 1 assessed these aforementioned relationships and Study 2 included a manipulation of post-traumatic growth and a behavioural outcome measure of prosocial behaviour. Structural equation models for Study 1 and 2 indicated that subjective traumatic suffering and objective trauma severity positively predicted post-traumatic growth, and post-traumatic growth positively predicted empathy. In turn, empathy positively predicted several prosocial outcomes. Thus, empathy mediated the link between post-traumatic growth and a prosocial orientation. In contrast to subjective traumatic suffering, psychological distress was unrelated to post-traumatic growth and negatively predicted empathy. Study 2 further indicated that focusing on one’s growth in regards to trauma resulted in greater post-traumatic growth scores, but the manipulation had no direct impact on empathy or a prosocial orientation. The current findings have important social and clinical implications.