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Inspired by the Paralympics: Effects of Empathy on Audience Interest in Para-Sports and on the Destigmatization of Persons with Disabilities.

Theories of eudaimonic entertainment and destigmatization concur to suggest that empathic feelings elicited by portrayals of Paralympic athletes can increase audience interest in para-sports and can lead to prosocial attitude change toward persons with disabilities in general. Three experiments were conducted to examine this dual, mutually reinforcing function of empathy in promoting public awareness and destigmatization. Participants watched television spots about the Paralympics that elicited different levels of empathy. As expected, structural equation modeling revealed indirect effects of empathy on audience interest, attitudes, and behavioral intentions that were mediated by elevation and reflective thoughts (Studies 1 and 2), and by feelings of closeness, elevation, and pity (Study 3). Mediation effects were positive for reflective thoughts, elevation, and closeness, but were negative for pity. Results are discussed with regard to problematic effects of pity, and concerns that elevating “supercrip” narratives might lead to negative perceptions of persons with disabilities in general.