Be Empathic! The Influence of Empathy on Attitude Formation in the German Refugee Debate

  •  Julia Weber    
  •  Marc-André Reinhard    


The study was conducted to investigate the elaboration and memorisation of the emotionally charged refugee debate with reference to the possible influences of empathic feelings, political attitude and mood. It was hypothesised that empathy towards refugees correlates positively with advanced elaboration and memorisation of the refugee debate. Participants’ personal empathy was assessed through a self-report questionnaire which differentiates between four distinct dimensions of empathy. Afterwards, participants listened to an interview with a politician from a German populist party about refugee policies concluding with a test about the content. As expected, the results revealed a positive correlation between the empathy dimensions’ Fantasy and Personal Distress and the correct answers of the open-ended question test. The Fantasy dimension of empathy was significantly correlated with the elaboration and memorisation of the extreme and populist positions in the refugee debate. Important practical implications as well as limitations of the study were discussed.

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