Effects of self-consciousness and social evaluation on emotions and prosocial behavior in women

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The present study is an investigation of the relationship among components of self-consciousness, emotional reactions, and prosocial behavior in settings of either high or low evaluation by another person. 120 undergraduate females completed the Self-Consciousness Scale (Fenigston, Scheier, & Buss, 1975), and several weeks later individually participated in a study ostensibly concerning social behavior and communication. After reading two notes written by a fictitious "communicator11 who appeared extremely lonely, subjects completed an adjective checklist assessing feelings of empathy and personal distress, wrote a paragraph describing what they were thinking and feeling in response to the notes, and then were presented with an unexpected opportunity to meet the communicator. In the "low social evaluation" condition, subject responses were anonymous. In the "high social evaluation" condition, the experimenter read all responses in the subjects1 presence, and subjects were led to believe that the communicator would be aware of their decision to spend time with her. In the low social evaluation condition, private self-consciousness was positively related to empathy, but this relationship was not revealed in the high social evaluation condition. There was a trend for empathy to be positively associated with the number of hours offered to spend with the communicator in the low social evaluation condition. In the high social evaluation condition, however, a significant relationship was revealed between these variables. In both conditions, feeling irritated with the communicator was negatively associated with empathy. There was also a negative relationship between feelings of irritation and the number of hours offered to spend with the communicator in the high social evaluation condition. This study replicated past research supporting the relationship between empathy and prosocial behavior. What was also demonstrated was the finding that socially evaluative circumstances elicit a greater amount of other-serving behavior than in settings where responses are anonymous. Additionally, socially evaluative circumstances interfere with attentional focus on feelings of compassion and warmth, particularly for people high in private self-consciousness. These findings are further explored in regard to attentional focus and control theory, as well as in relation to the empathy-altruism hypothesis.

Women, Psychology, Helping behavior