ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (12): 1559-1569.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.01559

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 The influence of moral emotions on online helping behavior: The mediating role of moral reasoning

 WU Peng1; FAN Jing1; LIU Huashan2   

  1.  (1 Faculty of Education, Hubei University, Wuhan 430062, China) (2 School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China)
  • Received:2017-01-09 Published:2017-12-25 Online:2017-10-25
  • Contact: WU Peng, E-mail:
  • Supported by:


According to the dual-process model and the social intuitionist model, moral emotion is defined as a key factor in predicting moral behavior. The difference between the two models is whether moral emotion has a direct effect on moral behavior. The dual-process model points out that moral emotion directly affects moral behavior, whereas in the social intuitionist model, the effect of moral emotion on moral behavior will be mediated through moral reasoning. With the rapid development of internet and information technology, people’s psychological states and behaviors have changed dramatically. So the above distinctions between the two models can be extended to the studies on cyberpsychology and behavior. To test the two models in an network environment, the present study involved a series of experiments to examine whether moral emotion predicted online helping behavior and whether moral reasoning mediated this relation.

Video materials were validated in the pilot study. A total of 120 college students evaluated the feeling of sympathy and guilt, the level of pleasure and arousal after watching one of three video materials (sympathy, guilt and neutral). In Study 1, 56 college students were recruited and randomly assigned to the “sympathy”, “guilt” or “neutral” group. Participants were asked to complete an online test after watching the relevant moral emotion video. After the testing, participants were informed that they would receive an email sent by the experimenter anonymously. In the email, participants were required to offer additional help (to fill in an online questionnaire). Participants’ online helping behavior was measured by the amount of questions that they answered. In Study 2, 233 college students were invited to participate. In addition to the same arrangement as in Study 1, participants’ moral reasoning was measured by the Prosocial Reasoning Objective Measure (PROM).

The results of pilot study suggested that the “sympathy” video material led to greater sympathy and less guilty, while the “guilt” video material led to greater guilt and less sympathy. With regard to the level of pleasure and arousal, there was no significant difference between the “sympathy” video material and the “guilt” video material, whereas there was a significant difference between the “neutral” video material and the other two video materials. In Study 1, ANOVA was used to analyze the data. The results indicated that as compared to neutral emotion, sympathy and guilt aroused more online helping behaviors. However, there was no difference between sympathy and guilt. In Study 2, statistical mediation analysis with a multicategorical independent variable (recommended by Hayes and Preacher) was used in the analyses of the data. The results showed that sympathy and guilt could induce online helping behavior through the mediation effect of moral reasoning, whereas moral emotion had a direct effect on moral behavior.

This study has practical and theoretical significance. Specifically, the finding suggests that the role of moral emotion in moral education, in particular as related to moral reasoning, has to be further researched. Theoretically, the present study confirms that video-prime is an effective method to explore moral emotion. Furthermore, most of the findings of the present study supports the dual-process model.

Key words: moral emotion, moral reasoning, online helping behavior, mediation effect

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