Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Experimental Psychology

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Lifespan Development

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Co-chair

Gyda Swaney, Kimberly Wallace

Commitee Members

Paul Silverman, Thomas Seekins, Angelica Lawson


Communal Coping, Communal Empathy, Cultural Resilience, Empathy, Native Americans, Resilience


University of Montana


Recently it has been posited that resilience is a dynamic process that develops, fluctuates, and is embedded in social context. With a dynamic systems approach it is possible to investigate resilience within a Native American community, which includes addressing the concept of cultural resilience and empathy. A secondary qualitative data analysis of 28 interviews with Native American older adults was conducted. Research questions addressed the context in which empathy was demonstrated, what dimensions of empathy were utilized, if empathy was used as an emotion-focused or communal coping strategy, and what outcomes were described when using empathy as a coping strategy. Analysis revealed that in the lives of the participants empathy is better understood as the multidimensional construct Communal Empathy. Communal Empathy is a relational and dynamic process of collectively shared feelings and acting compassionately for the good of the community. The dimensions within this overarching construct (i.e., Perspective Taking, Empathic Concern, Relational Empathy, and Empathic Wisdom) contain elements of the traditional approach to empathy with nuances that emerged within the relational worldview of Native Americans. These findings have important implications for understanding the strength and resilience of Native American older adults, who as a collective have overcome profound loss and adversity to not only survive but also thrive. These findings also begin to fill large gaps in the current body of research, enhancing both traditional and Native approaches to empathy. Further research is needed, however, to delineate the relationship between empathy and resilience for Native American individuals and others.



© Copyright 2011 Heather Lynn Dorlando