Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Ernest Hodges

Second Advisor

Wilson McDermut

Third Advisor

Raymond DiGiuseppe


Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests that empathic anger represents a form of anger that motivates bystanders to intervene and defend victims of aggression. Prior research on defending behavior has identified cognitive correlates of defending, but most studies failed to distinguish between different forms of defending and did not evaluate how these cognitions interact with emotions, such as empathic anger, in motivating or inhibiting defending behavior. This study attempted to address these lacunae by analyzing whether empathic anger moderates the associations between cognitions associated with defending (i.e., perspective taking, moral disengagement, and self-efficacy for defending) and different types of defending behavior. The study also tested whether the moderating effect of empathic anger is moderated by inhibitory control. The study sample included 453 total participants, comprised of 291 adults from the general population and 162 college undergraduate students. Factor analysis identified two dimensions of defending behavior: victim-focused defending, comprised of interventions focused on comforting the victim, and other-focused defending, comprised of assertive and aggressive interventions targeting the aggressor and/or other bystanders. The results indicated that empathic anger was a positive predictor of victim-focused defending across models, whereas empathic anger was unrelated to or inversely predicted other-focused defending after controlling for victim-focused defending and other covariates. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that empathic anger moderated the impact of perspective taking on victim-focused defending and the effects of perspective taking and self-efficacy for defending on other-focused defending behavior. Empathic anger’s moderating effect was in turn moderated by inhibitory control. These three-way interactions indicated that, specifically among those with low levels of inhibitory control, the associations between defending cognitions and defending behavior were weaker for people with a tendency to experience heightened empathic anger, compared with people who experience low levels of empathic anger. These results suggest that empathic anger constitutes a motivator of and/or an emotional reaction to the act of comforting the victim, to the exclusion of confrontational defending strategies, and that heightened empathic anger renders people less likely to act on certain pro-defending cognitions.