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Title: Revolutionary Emotion: Empathy and Equality in the United States
Authors: Czaja, Erica
Advisors: Mendelberg, Tali
Harris-Perry, Melissa
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: empathy
public opinion
social policy
Subjects: Political Science
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Why does public opinion become more egalitarian regarding marginalized or stigmatized out-groups? Whites became dramatically more egalitarian during the 1960s in their views about civil rights for African Americans, but what were the mechanisms that motivated this massive egalitarian shift? The activities and strategies of the civil rights movement were critical to changing the nation's hearts and minds, but what was it about the actions of movement activists that changed public opinion? Similarly, twenty years ago it was unthinkable to most Americans that gay men and women would be able to marry legally, but now thirteen states grant this right and a majority of the American public supports gay marriage. What caused these egalitarian changes? Central to this research is the distinction between empathy, which involves feeling the emotions of another, and sympathy, which refers to feeling pity or sorry for another. I advance two theories in which I propose that the emotional states of empathy and sympathy motivate different kinds of political opinions and outcomes: a theory of empathy and equality and a theory of sympathy and charity. I test these theories in the context of the modern-day civil rights debate over gay rights using a multi-method approach to answer the question: how does empathy for gay individuals influence heterosexuals' opinions about policies affecting gay and lesbian Americans? This specific question can speak to the general question of how empathy changes public opinion about policies affecting marginalized or minority groups. In field experiments, a natural experiment, and a survey experiment, I use real world media to stimulate emotional responses to gay and lesbian individuals as naturally as possible in order to test the effects of empathy and sympathy states on heterosexuals' opinions about gay rights. I also collect the first national survey of Americans (N=3010) to include validated measures of the traits of global empathy, sympathy, and cognitive perspective-taking and further explore the relationships between these traits and political outcomes. On the whole, I find support for the theories but also generate numerous questions for future research regarding the workings of empathy and sympathy in U.S. politics.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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