Daniel Batson

Daniel Batson

C. Daniel Batson (born 1943) is an American social psychologist. He holds both doctoral degrees in Theology (from Princeton Theological Seminary) and Psychology (from Princeton University's Department of Psychology). He obtained his doctorate under John Darley and has taught at the University of Kansas. He is especially known for his contributions to three fields: the social psychology of altruism, empathic concern, and psychology of religion.


Batson on altruism

Batson has become well-known for the empathy-altruism hypothesis, which states that "feeling empathy for [a] person in need evokes motivation to help [that person] in which these benefits to self are not the ultimate goal of helping; they are unintended consequences" (Batson & Shaw 1991, p. 114). The theory, initially proposed as an explanation of the so-called "empathy-helping relationship", implies that pure altruism is possible and that psychological egoism is false. Indeed, Aronson, Wilson and Akert (2005) have described Batson as "the strongest proponent that people often help others purely out of the goodness of their hearts" (Aronson et al., 2005, p362). Batson has published experimental research to support the empathy-altruism hypothesis against various alternative egoistic explanations. However, critics---who believe that all apparently altruistic actions are actually egoistic---have attacked the theory (see, for example, the competing negative state relief model). More on the empathy-altruism hypothesis can be found in a number of social psychology text books, including Brehm and Kassin (1996).

Batson is also the co-author of an often-cited study examining bystander intervention in theology students (Darley & Batson, 1973); although this study is often cited as evidence that exposure to the parable of the Good Samaritan did not make the students more helpful, there has been debate about whether Batson used appropriate statistics to analyze this study (Greenwald, 1975).

Batson on empathy

Work in social psychology has for a long time been interested in the distinction between imagining the other and imagining oneself, and in particular in the emotional and motivational consequences of these two perspectives. A number of these studies conducted by Batson documented that focusing on another’s feelings may evoke stronger empathic concern, while explicitly putting oneself into the shoes of the target (imagine self) induces both empathic concern and personal distress. In one such study, Batson and colleagues investigated the affective consequences of different perspective-taking instructions when participants listened to a story about Katie Banks, a young college student struggling with her life after the death of her parents.[1] This study demonstrated that different instructions had distinct effects on how participants perceived the target’s situation. Notably, participants imagining themselves to be in Katie’s place showed stronger signs of discomfort and personal distress than participants focusing on the target’s responses and feelings (imagine other), or as participants instructed to take on an objective, detached point of view. Also, both perspective-taking instructions differed from the detached perspective by resulting in higher empathic concern. This observation may help explain why observing a need situation does not always yield to prosocial behavior: if perceiving another person in an emotionally or physically painful circumstance elicits personal distress, then the observer may tend not to fully attend to the other's experience and as a result lack sympathetic behaviors.

Batson recently collaborated with University of Chicago neuroscientist Jean Decety in the investigation of the neural underpinnings of empathy and personal distress, in a study using functional neuroimaging.[2] While being scanned, participants watched a series of video-clips featuring patients undergoing painful medical treatment. They were asked to either put themselves explicitly in the shoes of the patient (imagine self), or to focus on their feelings and affective expressions (imagine other). The behavioral data confirmed that explicitly projecting oneself into an aversive situation leads to higher personal distress – while focusing on the emotional and behavioral reactions of another’s plight is accompanied by higher empathic concern and lower personal distress. The neuroimaging data were consistent with this finding and provided insights into the neural correlates of these distinct behavioral responses. The self-perspective evoked stronger hemodynamic responses in brain regions involved in coding the motivational-affective dimensions of pain, including bilateral insular cortices, anterior anterior cingulate cortex, the amygdala, and various structures involved in motor preparation. The amygdala plays a critical role in the evaluation of actual or potential threats. Imagining oneself to be in a painful and potentially dangerous situation thus might therefore have triggered a stronger fearful and/or aversive response than imagining someone else to be in the same situation.

Batson on religion

Batson's most famous[citation needed] contribution to the psychology of religion has been his argument that the traditional distinction, made by Gordon Allport between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations, does not exhaust all possible orientations to being religious; rather, he believes it is important to refer to what he calls Quest, a form of religiosity that views questions and the answers to those questions as being of equal importance (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991a; 1991b). This view has been controversial, and critics have questioned whether this Quest really does correlate with any other variable germane to religiosity. He has also written about religious experiences, defending a four-stage model of religious experiences, based upon Graham Wallas' four-stage model of problem-solving in the psychology of creativity (Batson, Schoenrade & Ventis, 1993).


  • Batson, C.D. (2011). Altruism in Humans. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Batson, C.D. (2009). "These things called empathy: eight related but distinct phenomena". In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 3–15). Cambridge: MIT press.
  • Batson, C.D. (2009). "Two forms of perspective taking: imagining how another feels and imagining how you would feel". In K. D. Markman, W.M.P. Klein and J.A. Suhr (Eds.), Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation (pp. 267–279). New York: Psychology Press.
  • Batson, C.D., Schoenrade, P & Ventis, L. (1993). Religion and the Individual. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Batson, C.D. (1991). The Altruism Question: Toward a Social-Psychological Answer, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Batson, C.D.; Schoenrade, P. (1991a). "Measuring Religion as Quest: Validity concerns". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30 (4): 416–429. doi:10.2307/1387277. JSTOR 1387277. 
  • Batson, C.D.; Schoenrade, P. (1991b). "Measuring Religion as Quest: Reliability Concerns". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30 (4): 430–437. doi:10.2307/1387278. JSTOR 1387278. 
  • Batson, C.D., Schoenrade, P. & Ventis. L.W. (1993). Religion and the Individual. New York. Cambridge University press
  • Batson, C.D.; Shaw, L.L. (1991). "Evidence for Altruism: Toward a Pluralism of Prosocial Motives". Psychological Inquiry 2 (2): 107–122. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0202_1. 
  • Batson, C.D. (1976). "Religion as prosocial: Agent or double agent?" 'Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 15, 29-45.
  • Darley, J.; Batson, C.D. (1973). "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behaviour". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27: 100–108. doi:10.1037/h0034449. 

Additional references

  • Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (2005). Social Psychology. New Jersey: Pearson. ISBN 0-13-178686-5.
  • Brehm, J. & Kassin, S. (1996). Social PsychologyBoston: Houghton Mifflin (Third Edition). ISBN 0-395-73630-7.
  • Greenwald, A. (1975). "Does the Good Samaritan parable increase helping? A comment on Darley and Batson's no-effect conclusion". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32 (4): 578–583. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.32.4.578. 

See also


  1. ^ Batson, C. D., Early, S., & Salvarini, G. (1997). Perspective taking: imagining how another feels versus imagining how you would feel. Personality & Social Personality Bulletin, 23, 751-758.
  2. ^ Lamm, C.; Batson, C.D.; Decety, J. (2007). "The neural substrate of human empathy: effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 19 (1): 42–58. doi:10.1162/jocn.2007.19.1.42. PMID 17214562. 

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