Cynical vs empathetic worldview schemas and fairness perception

Lindsay NEILL, David L. WILLIAMSON, Miu Chi, Vivian LUN

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


This research explores the contrast between cynicism, as a component of Kwok Leung’s human social axioms construct, and a more empathetic or altruistic view of the social world. As such it looks at the contrast between what game theorists call “zero-sum” perception and “positive-sum” perception. What are some of the attitudinal and behavioural differences between people who believe they live in a you-OR-me world, and those who believe they live in a you-AND-me world? Given its implications for inequality, political conflict, and ideology, this seems to capture a critical dimension in human social worldviews. Preconceptions about whether others can be trusted and whether one can afford to cooperate extensively with others to solve difficult problems have many implications for social capital building and dispute resolution between individuals and groups in society. The research explores ‘cynical’ and ‘empathetic’ orientations to social interaction, and the ways in which these worldview schemas relate to (1) social fairness perceptions and (2) related aspects of personality and self-conception. Data were gathered using a multiconstruct written questionnaire instrument administered to undergraduates in New Zealand, Jamaica and Hong Kong. Results across several cultural contexts show significant differences in both personality attributes and in social fairness attitudes between participants who are predominantly cynical in their worldview (higher scores on 20-item Leung cynicism scale, relative to empathy) and those who are predominantly empathetic in their worldview (higher scores on 14-item empathy scale, relative to cynicism).


ConferenceXVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology : Facing an unequal world: Challenges for global sociology
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