UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

Psychologists find way of identifying, studying people who care deeply about all humanity

MK Gandhi

Wikimedia Commons
Mohandas K. Gandhi

“All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family,” said Gandhi. Yet, most of us do not see ourselves first and foremost as part of that indivisible family, that is, as a member of the human species. Instead, we tend to identify with — and express the most loyalty to — various ethnic, geographic, religious or political groups.

Research has also shown (and this won’t surprise anybody) that we’re much more likely to help people within the groups to which we feel a kinship, even (or sometimes, especially) at the expense of those we view as outsiders.

A minority of individuals, however, care deeply for all humanity, not just for particular groups. Their empathy for all people can lead them to make courageous choices. (The example most frequently given of this empathy in action is the decision of some non-Jewish Europeans to hide and shelter Jews during the Holocaust, even though it put their own lives at risk.)

Although the proposition that “fully mature individuals care deeply for all humanity, not just for their own ingroups” was championed by such pioneering psychologists as Alfred Adler (1870-1937) and Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), people with an “all-humanity” self-identification have not been the focus of much psychological research. One major reason for that failing has been the lack of a good psychological tool for explicitly measuring the trait.

But, as psychologist and journalist Christian Jarrett reports this week in BPS Digest, a team of researchers from Western Kentucky University now believe they have developed such a tool. They call it the Identification With All Humanity scale (IWAH), and have tested it in 10 experiments involving hundreds of participants. The findings were reported recently in a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Here, as described by Jarrett, is what they found:

  • a high score on the IWAH was more than just a lack of in-group bias and a disposition for empathy; the IWAH also taps into something other than [social psychologist] Shalom Schwartz‘s broader and more abstract concept of “universalism” (the goal of “understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for all nature”)
  • high scores on IWAH correlated more strongly with people’s concern for human rights than existing compassion measures
  • scores on the scale were stable across 10 weeks
  • close friends and family had a good idea of a person’s score on the IWAH
  • members of Human Rights Watch and the Church World Service scored particularly high on the scale, just as you’d expect if it’s measuring what it is supposed to
  • high scores on the IWAH correlated with the personality factors agreeableness, openness to experience and neuroticism (the researchers were baffled by this last association)
  • high scorers on IWAH valued American and Afghani lives more equally
  • high scorers had a greater knowledge of global humanitarian issues
  • and finally … research via the your morals.org website, involving thousands of participants, showed that high scores on the IWAH predicted people’s willingness to donate money to international charities, beyond traditional measures, such as of ethnocentrism.

The study is behind a paywall, but you can read the full version of the IWAH online.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply