Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Interethnic Aggression and Willingness to Help: Judgments of Black and White Victims and Perpetrators

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Interethnic Aggression and Willingness to Help: Judgments of Black and White Victims and Perpetrators

Article excerpt

This study explored the effect of ethnicity on aggression and helping behavior. Black participants and White participants each read a vignette describing an incident in which the ethnicity of the aggressor and victim were varied. Participants judged the harmfulness of the aggressor and indicated whether they would be willing to help the victim. Results revealed significant differences in judgments of aggression and willingness to help that were associated with the ethnicity of the aggressor depicted in the vignettes, as well as with participants' own ethnicity.

The goal of this research was to examine how ethnicity affects perceptions of aggression and helping. The study sought to answer the following questions: Do people perceive aggression differently when the ethnicity of the aggressor and the victim are varied, and does this influence their decision to help the target person (i.e., victim) of that aggressive incident?


Research has generally shown that there are ethnic differences in interethnic aggression. For example, some findings show that Whites tend to behave more aggressively towards African Americans than towards other Whites under certain conditions such as when anger is aroused (Donnerstein & Donnerstein, 1975; Rogers & Prentice-Dunn, 1981). Additional research suggests that the apparent ethnic differences in interethnic aggression are complex and intricate in nature (Beal, O'Neal, Ong, & Ruscher, 2000; Leonard & Taylor, 1981). Indeed at present, based on the existing literature, it is difficult to ascertain the exact relationship between ethnicity and aggression.


Of particular relevance to the current discussion is the role of ethnicity in decisions to help. In general, the research indicates that ethnicity exerts a consistent, though moderate, influence on helping behavior. Helping, or more specifically empathy, is dependent upon whether or not people identify with the recipient of a help request, see the person as deserving of help and are motivated by social desirability concerns (Gaertner & Bickman, 1971; Katz, Cohen, & Glass, 1975). Each of these factors is instrumental in predicting help in interethnic interactions.


Traditionally in social psychology, aggression and helping behavior have been examined separately. However, it is important to realize that these two constructs can be linked through the construct of empathy. Surprisingly, there has been relatively little research investigating how viewing an aggressive act affects a potential bystander's helping behavior towards the victim of that act (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972). The small amount of existing research suggests that empathy can act as a moderator of aggression and increase helping behavior (Batson et al., 1991; Feshbach, 1984; Ohbuchi, Ohno, & Mukai, 1993; Richardson, Hammock, Smith, Gardner, & Signo, 1994).


The tendency to overlook minority perspectives in intergroup and interethnic relations research is particularly glaring. Very little is known about Blacks' attitudes towards Whites, for example. To the extent that research in this area continues along this particular trajectory, our understanding of the psychology of aggression and helping will continue to be limited.

Therefore, as a way of expanding understanding in this area, a second goal of this research was to examine aggression and helping behavior from the perspective of African Americans. This represents a significant broadening of context over previous studies that have tended to exclude this particular population. Thus, a key feature of this research is the inclusion of both a Black and a White sample in exploring aggression and willingness to help.


Because of the exploratory nature of this research, it was difficult to formulate specific hypotheses. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.