Sara H. Konrath

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Using mobile technology for psychosocial interventions

Mobile phones are a common mode of connecting with people in the digital age. Every day, young Americans on average send and receive 130 text messages and spend over nine hours using their mobile phones. Parents, educators, and social critics worry that at best, this displaces our deepest social connections—and at worst, it promotes bullying, sexting, and privacy abuses. And there is reason for such concerns. Professor Sara Konrath’s research has found recent declines in empathy among young Americans since the late 1970s. Fortunately, research also ¬finds that empathy can be taught and learned. Konrath is currently working with a multidisciplinary group of collaborators to develop theoretically-based mobile interventions to help increase empathy and prosocial behavior—thereby reducing bullying, aggression, and violence. Her mobile program, Text to Connect, sends daily text reminders that encourage users to think about and care for others. The program increases participants’ prosocial motives and behaviors—compared to control messages—with effects lasting up to six months. Konrath is also developing a fun empathy-building app named Random App of Kindness, which provides games based on scientific principles of empathy development. Professor Konrath sees the larger potential of mobile-based interventions in other psychosocial interventions, including those aimed at increasing mental health and well-being. Professor Konrath’s work to create tools to address declining empathy among younger generations is another example of how IUPUI faculty are TRANSLATING RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 10 of 47
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    Museums as Weavers of the Invisible Strings that Connect us
    (Taylor & Francis, 2019) Konrath, Sara; Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    This paper reviews the scientific research literature on changes over time in social connection and self-focus in the United States. It discusses the implications of these changes for the need for meaning, and in terms of mental health trends in the US. It then suggests that art museums can play a critical role in helping communities re-connect, by reenvisioning their roles as meaning makers in atime when people’s existential needs are threatened. It ends by providing specific suggestions that art museums can try to re-connect people in their communities.
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    Effects of self-transcendence on neural responses to persuasive messages and health behavior change
    (National Academy of Sciences, 2018-10-02) Kang, Yoona; Cooper, Nicole; Pandey, Prateekshit; Scholz, Christin; O'Donnell, Matthew Brook; Lieberman, Matthew D.; Taylor, Shelley E.; Strecher, Victor J.; Dal Cin, Sonya; Konrath, Sara; Polk, Thad A.; Resnicow, Kenneth; An, Lawrence; Falk, Emily B.; Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    Self-transcendence refers to a shift in mindset from focusing on self-interests to the well-being of others. We offer an integrative neural model of self-transcendence in the context of persuasive messaging by examining the mechanisms of self-transcendence in promoting receptivity to health messages and behavior change. Specifically, we posited that focusing on values and activities that transcend the self can allow people to see that their self-worth is not tied to a specific behavior in question, and in turn become more receptive to subsequent, otherwise threatening health information. To test whether inducing self-transcendent mindsets before message delivery would help overcome defensiveness and increase receptivity, we used two priming tasks, affirmation and compassion, to elicit a transcendent mindset among 220 sedentary adults. As preregistered, those who completed a self-transcendence task before health message exposure, compared with controls, showed greater increases in objectively logged levels of physical activity throughout the following month. In the brain, self-transcendence tasks up-regulated activity in a region of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, chosen for its role in positive valuation and reward processing. During subsequent health message exposure, self-transcendence priming was associated with increased activity in subregions of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, implicated in self-related processing and positive valuation, which predicted later decreases in sedentary behavior. The present findings suggest that having a positive self-transcendent mindset can increase behavior change, in part by increasing neural receptivity to health messaging.
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    Development and validation of the Single Item Trait Empathy Scale (SITES)
    (Elsevier, 2018-04) Konrath, Sara; Meier, Brian P.; Bushman, Brad J.; Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    Empathy involves feeling compassion for others and imagining how they feel. In this article, we develop and validate the Single Item Trait Empathy Scale (SITES), which contains only one item that takes seconds to complete. In seven studies (N=5,724), the SITES was found to be both reliable and valid. It correlated in expected ways with a wide variety of intrapersonal outcomes. For example, it is negatively correlated with narcissism, depression, anxiety, and alexithymia. In contrast, it is positively correlated with other measures of empathy, self-esteem, subjective well-being, and agreeableness. The SITES also correlates with a wide variety of interpersonal outcomes, especially compassion for others and helping others. The SITES is recommended in situations when time or question quantity is constrained.
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    A Century of Nonprofit Studies: Scaling the Knowledge of the Field
    (Springer, 2018-12) Ma, Ji; Konrath, Sara; Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    This empirical study examines knowledge production between 1925 and 2015 in nonprofit and philanthropic studies from quantitative and thematic perspectives. Quantitative results suggest that scholars in this field have been actively generating a considerable amount of literature and a solid intellectual base for developing this field toward a new discipline. Thematic analyses suggest that knowledge production in this field is also growing in cohesion—several main themes have been formed and actively advanced since 1980s, and the study of volunteering can be identified as a unique core theme of this field. The lack of geographic and cultural diversity is a critical challenge for advancing nonprofit studies. New paradigms are needed for developing this research field and mitigating the tension between academia and practice. Methodological and pedagogical implications, limitations, and future studies are discussed.
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    Empathy, Narcissism, and Visual Arts Engagement
    (2019) Konrath, Sara
    Empathy involves imagining others’ minds and feeling compassion for them, and narcissism is a sense of inflated self-esteem with a low regard for others. In this chapter, I will review scientific research on empathy, narcissism, and visual arts, including creativity. I will present evidence that there are two paths to arts engagement, just as with any behavior. Some people likely get involved with the arts because they care about others and want to improve the world in some way, and some people get involved for more self-focused reasons. The final section will make recommendations for future research and for how these ideas can be applied to museum settings.
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    The Development and Validation of the Motives to Donate Scale
    (Sage, 2017) Konrath, Sara; Handy, Femida; Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    In this article, we develop and validate a comprehensive self-report scale of why people make charitable donations, relying on a theoretical model of private versus public benefits to donors. In Study 1, we administered an initial pool of 54 items to a general adult sample online. An exploratory factor analysis supported six final factors in the Motives to Donate scale: Trust, Altruism, Social, Tax benefits, Egoism, and Constraints. We then verified this factor structure in a confirmatory factor analysis. Study 1 also examined the final 18-item scale’s demographic correlates and construct validity using the same sample. We found that the scale correlated in predictable ways with personality traits and motives to volunteer. In Study 2, we also found test–retest correlations between .67 and .80 after 2 weeks. Taken together, we provide initial evidence for the scale’s internal reliability, test–retest reliability, and validity, and we suggest future directions for research.
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    Narcissism and prosocial behavior
    (2017) Konrath, Sara H.; Tian, Yuan
    There are many motivations for prosocial behavior, some more altruistic and some more egoistic. We posit that more narcissistic people may perform prosocial acts strategically, for example, to improve their reputations or to receive something in return.
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    Differences in Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking Across 63 Countries
    (Sage, 2017-01) Chopik, William J.; O'Brien, Ed; Konrath, Sara H.; School of Philanthropy
    Cultural practices socialize people to relate to others in different ways. One critical way in which these interpersonal bonds are formed and maintained is via empathy, our emotional reactivity toward others’ experiences. However, the extent to which individuals from different cultures vary in their dispositional empathy, and the correlates of these differences, are relatively unknown. Thus, the current study explored cultural variation in empathy, and how this variation is related to psychological characteristics and prosocial behavior across cultures. Evidence from an original sample of 104,365 adults across 63 countries reveals that higher empathy countries also have higher levels of collectivism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, emotionality, subjective well-being, and prosocial behavior. These findings reveal that empathy is situated within a broader nomological network of other psychological characteristics, emotional expression and experiences, and prosocial behavior across cultures. The current study expands our understanding about how psychological characteristics vary across cultures and how these characteristics can manifest in broader national indicators of prosocial behavior.
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    Geographic variation in empathy: A state-level analysis
    (Elsevier, 2016) Bach, Rachel; Defever, Andrew M.; Chopik, William J.; Konrath, Sara H.; Department of Philanthropy, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
    Empathy is often studied at the individual level, but little is known about variation in empathy across geographic regions and how this variation is associated with important regional-level outcomes. The present study examined associations between state-level empathy, prosocial behavior, and antisocial behavior in the United States. Participants were 79,563 U.S. residential adults who completed measures of cognitive and emotional empathy (i.e., perspective taking and empathic concern). Information on prosocial and antisocial behavior was retrieved from publicly available government databases. All indices of empathy were related to lower rates of violent crime, aggravated assault, and robbery. Total empathy was associated with higher well-being and higher volunteer rates. Implications for geographic variation in empathy, prosocial behavior, and antisocial behavior are discussed.
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    Physiological Correlates of Volunteering
    (2016) Bekkers, René; Konrath, Sara H.; Smith, David H.
    We review research on physiological correlates of volunteering, a neglected but promising research field. Some of these correlates seem to be causal factors influencing volunteering. Volunteers tend to have better physical health, both self-reported and expert-assessed, better mental health, and perform better on cognitive tasks. Research thus far has rarely examined neurological, neurochemical, hormonal, and genetic correlates of volunteering to any significant extent, especially controlling for other factors as potential confounds. Evolutionary theory and behavioral genetic research suggest the importance of such physiological factors in humans. Basically, many aspects of social relationships and social activities have effects on health (e.g., Newman and Roberts 2013; Uchino 2004), as the widely used biopsychosocial (BPS) model suggests (Institute of Medicine 2001). Studies of formal volunteering (FV), charitable giving, and altruistic behavior suggest that physiological characteristics are related to volunteering, including specific genes (such as oxytocin receptor [OXTR] genes, Arginine vasopressin receptor [AVPR] genes, dopamine D4 receptor [DRD4] genes, and 5-HTTLPR). We recommend that future research on physiological factors be extended to non-Western populations, focusing specifically on volunteering, and differentiating between different forms and types of volunteering and civic participation.