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Empathy has been considered a central feature of our temperamental dispositions in childhood and adolescence. It plays a central role in the development of prosocial behavior and moral reasoning. However, the links between empathy and the major factors of personality have not yet been well described. This study explores the relationships between an index of empathy and the Big-Five personality model in a sample of 832 Spanish adolescents. As expected, results show that empathy correlates strongly with Friendliness. Positive correlations with Conscientiousness, Energy, and Openness traits have also been observed, but regression analyses show that relationships of empathy with those three factors were of negligible importance. Contrary to expectations, empathy did not correlate with Emotional stability. This pattern of results was replicated across boys and girls.
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National University of Distance Education, Madrid, Spain
University of Lleida, Spain
Empathy has been considered a central feature of our temperamental dispositions in childhood
and adolescence. It plays a central role in the development of prosocial behavior and moral
reasoning. However, the links between empathy and the major factors of personality have not
yet been well described. This study explores the relationships between an index of empathy
and the Big-Five personality model in a sample of 832 Spanish adolescents. As expected,
results show that empathy correlates strongly with Friendliness. Positive correlations with
Conscientiousness, Energy, and Openness traits have also been observed, but regression
analyses show that relationships of empathy with those three factors were of negligible
importance. Contrary to expectations, empathy did not correlate with Emotional stability. This
pattern of results was replicated across boys and girls.
Empathy can be understood as the vicarious affective responses with an
emphasis on the congruent response to others’ emotional state (del Barrio, 2002;
Eisenberg, 2000). Empathy is considered an effective control of aggression in
childhood and adolescence (Bandura, 1999; Tremblay, Pihl, Vitaro, & Dobkin,
1994), as well as an important predictor of prosocial behavior, and the
development of moral reasoning during childhood (Eisenberg, Miller, Shell,
McNalley, & Shea, 1991). This positive role of empathy in interpersonal
© Society for Personality Research (Inc.)
Victoria del Barrio, Department of Personality, Faculty of Psychology, National University of
Distance Education, Madrid, Spain; Anton Aluja and Luis F. García, University of Lleida, Spain.
Appreciation is due to reviewers including: Oscar Garcia Lopez, PhD, Universidad Europea de
Madrid, c/ Tajo s/n, Villaviosa de Odon, 28670 Madrid, Spain, Email: <>;
Professor Jerome Rossier, Institute of Psychology, University of Lausanne, BFSH 2 – Dorigny, CH –
1015 Lausamme, Switzerland, Email: <>
Please address correspondence and reprint requests to: Victoria del Barrio, Department of Personality,
Faculty of Psychology, National University of Distance Education, Madrid, Spain. Phone: 34 97
3792326; Email: <>
relationships has been shown in American (Bryant, 1985), Colombian (Rey,
2001), and Spanish (Mestre, Semper, & Frías, 2002) samples.
Nowadays, the Five Factor model is considered as the dominant paradigm in
personality research (Matthews & Deary, 1998). Following this model,
Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and
Conscientiousness are the basic traits of personality. Empathy is expected to
correlate with various traits of the Five Factor model. In detail, empathy should
correlate mainly with Agreeableness. This trait is primarily a dimension of
interpersonal behavior, and represents the quality of interaction from compassion
to antagonism (Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991). Agreeableness is also strongly
implicated in the prediction of prosocial and aggressive behaviors (Graziano &
Eisenberg, 1997). On the other hand, there are two reasons for expecting a
positive correlation between empathy and Conscientiousness. High scores on this
trait inhibit aggressive behaviors in adolescent populations (John, Caspi, Robins,
Moffitt, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1994), and Conscientiousness correlates
negatively with Eysenck’s dimension of Psychoticism (Aluja, García, & García,
2002), defined by a lack of empathy.
The relationship between empathy and Neuroticism appears less clear.
Whereas prosocial behaviors and concern for others have been related to low
scores on negative emotionality or Neuroticism (e.g. Shiner & Caspi, 2003),
Eysenck defended a positive relationship between empathy and Neuroticism
(Eysenck & Eysenck, 1991).
As far as we know, no study has related the Five Factor model with an index
of empathy in the adolescent population. Thus, the purpose of this study was to
explore the convergent and discriminant validity of empathy in regard to the Big-
Five personality traits.
Eight hundred and thirty-two children between 12 and 17 years (Mean age:
14.39; SD: 0.92) participated in the study. The sample was composed of 408 boys
(Mean age: 14.39; SD: 0.96), and 424 girls (Mean age: 14.38; SD: 0.88).
Questionnaires were administered in the classroom in the presence of a trained
IECA. The Spanish version of Bryant’s Empathy Index for Children and
Adolescents (Bryant, 1982; del Barrio, Aluja, & García, in press) is a 22-item
questionnaire, with a +2 to -2 response format. Response choices were visually
aided by two circles of increasing size on either the yes, like me or the no, not like
me sides of the paper. All children understood the procedure, as indicated by their
responses to trial items such as “I like ice cream” and “I don’t like soap in my
eyes”. The alpha coefficient in the sample was 0.73.
The Spanish version of the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ). (Caprara,
Barbaranelli, Borgogni, & Perugini, 1993) is a 132-item questionnaire measuring
five domains (Energy, Friendliness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and
Openness). Note that those terms will be employed hereafter to name the “Big
Five”. The respondent has a 5-choice answer format that ranges from complete
disagreement (1 = very false for me) to complete agreement (5 = very true for
me). Alpha reliability indices in the present sample were 0.65, 0.65, 0.71, 0.73,
and 0.65 for Energy, Friendliness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability and
Openness, respectively.
Table 1 shows the statistical descriptives and correlations among empathy and
the Big-Five, separately by sex. Differences between sexes replicate previous
findings regarding empathy (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983), and the Big-Five
(Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001). Girls score higher on Empathy,
Friendliness, Conscientiousness, and Openness, whereas boys show a larger
mean on Emotional Stability. No sex differences were found for Energy.
Statistical Correlations Standardised
descriptives with Empathy regression
Boys Girls Boys Girls Boys Girls
Energy 77.94 77.71 .171*.129*---- ---
(8.78) (9.10)
Friendliness 76.87 81.97 .359*.401*.30 .38
(8.73) (7.85)
Conscientiousness 76.47 78.73 .232*.184*--- .11
(9.31) (9.69)
Emotional Stability 70.90 66.44 .014 -.113 --- -.13
(9.32) (10.36)
Openness 76.41 78.61 .284*.203*.19 ---
(8.88) (9.10)
Empathy 68.26 80.15
(9.70) (10.29)
p< .01.
As expected, the largest correlations were with Friendliness. In order to correct
for the lack of reliability of the scales, a correction for attenuation was computed
for the correlations between Empathy and Friendliness. The corrected
coefficients were 0.53 and 0.58 for boys and girls, respectively. On the other
hand, correlations with Energy, Conscientiousness and Openness were
significant for both sexes, although much lower than those for Friendliness.
Unexpectedly, Emotional Stability was not related with Empathy. It should be
highlighted that the same pattern arises for both boys and girls. Moreover, Table
1 shows also the standardised regression coefficients of the personality traits
included in the final regression model (stepwise method) taking Empathy as the
dependent variable. The adjusted R2were 0.15, and 0.18 for boys and girls,
respectively. The adjusted R2was also obtained with a linear regression using the
enter method. Values were 0.16 and 0.18 for boys and girls, respectively.
Empathy is strongly linked to Friendliness for boys and girls. So an important
component of the individual differences in the quality of interpersonal behavior
during adolescence is the ability to respond appropriately to others’ emotions.
But also, Empathy could play a minor role in the need for social encounters, the
control of one’s own impulses, and intellectual curiosity. Our study supports no
relevant relationship (either positive or negative) between Empathy and
Neuroticism. This fact does not confirm Eysenck’s view that feeling anxiety or
fear oneself would engender the ability of feeling another’s emotional state
(Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). However, caution should be exercised in relying on
this fact since other authors remark that very young adolescents could have
limitations in their ability to recognize their own emotional states through self-
report measures (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987). In general, these results reflect the
importance of the empathy construct in explaining the self-reported differences
in the Friendliness trait during adolescence.
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... En el estudio de Calvo et al. (2001) las mujeres obtienen puntuaciones superiores en la mayoría de los factores de conducta prosocial (Pursell et al., 2008;Redondo y Guevara, 2012) mientras que los varones presentan niveles superiores de conducta antisocial. Por el contrario, en otros estudios (Del Barrio et al., 2004;Marsh et al., 2013;Zhang et al., 2002) no se encontraron diferencias estadísticamente significativas entre los hombres y mujeres en los rasgos de personalidad. ...
... Otro rasgo muy relacionado con la amabilidad es la apertura a la experiencia, la cual se encontró relacionada positivamente con la empatía y la escrupulosidad (Del Barrio et al., 2004;Iacovella et al., 2015;Magalhäes et al., 2012). Igualmente, se encontró relacionada con la conducta prosocial (Luengo et al., 2014). ...
... En cuanto a los otros rasgos y su relación con la conducta prosocial, la empatía (que guarda estrecha relación con la amabilidad) fue encontrada como promotora de la conducta prosocial (Fernández y López, 2007;Garaigordobil y García, 2006); se ha asociado con actividades cívicas y voluntariado (Carlo et al., 2005, citados por Gerbino et al., 2017 y predictora del logro académico (Poropat, 2009, citado por Gerbino et al., 2017. Igualmente, se hallaron relaciones significativas positivas entre la empatía y la amabilidad, la escrupulosidad, la extraversión (Del Barrio et al., 2004) y la apertura a la experiencia (Kline et al., 2017;Magalhäes et al., 2012). Apertura a la experiencia refleja la orientación general hacia el aprendizaje y experimentar cosas nuevas. ...
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... Kedua dimensi tersebut terus meningkat pada masa remaja, meskipun dimensi afektif tampaknya stabil pada usia dini (Eisenberg, Cumberland, Guthrie, Murphy, & Shepard, 2005; Van der Graaff, De Wied, Elang, Van Lier, & Meeus, 2014). Bukti menunjukkan bahwa empati terkait untuk pembentukan dan pemeliharaan interpersonal yang diinginkan hubungan (Del Barrio, Aluja, & García, 2004), karena positif pengembangan empati memerlukan peningkatan tingkat kepuasan dalam hubungan dekat (Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Thomson, 2010). ...
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... La empatía se ha considerado una característica central de nuestras disposiciones temperamentales en la infancia y adolescencia (Barrio, Aluja y García, 2004). Al igual que con la mayoría de los procesos de desarrollo, las diferencias individuales en la empatía resultan del entrelazamiento complejo de la predisposición biológica y el entorno de un niño (Knafo, Zahn-Waxler, van Hulle, Robinson y Rhee, 2008). ...
... Using a 5% margin of error and 80.5 power of the test, 144 sample size is calculated based on r=0.232 between Big Five Inventory (BFI) and empathy. 9 A total of 144 final-year medical students of our university were included in this study. We used 2 standardized questionnaires in this study. ...
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... To build on our findings, future studies can investigate other personality traits which can potentially play a moderating role in the crossover process. For example, along with agreeableness there are studies that indicate that conscientiousness has a positive relationship with empathy e.g., [69,82]. From this perspective it is possible that conscientiousness can also have a positive effect on the crossover process. ...
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... Un nivel bajo de empatía (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2004;Zych & Llorent, 2019) también se relaciona con los comportamientos antisociales. La empatía es una variable interpersonal clave presente en las interacciones interpersonales (Del Barrio et al., 2004) y se define como «comprender y compartir el estado o contexto emocional de otra persona» (Cohen & Strayer, 1996, p. 988). Esta variable está formada por dos dimensiones (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006): empatía afectiva (capacidad de experimentar y compartir los estados emocionales y los contextos emocionales de otras personas) y empatía cognitiva (capacidad de comprender las emociones que otras personas sienten en su contexto emocional). ...
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... In light of such changes, empathy enables youth to feel concerns for others and to demonstrate their concerns through positive social actions (Eisenberg & Spinrad, 2014). Through its cognitive and emotional components, empathy enables youth to apply successful relationship skills (e.g., conflict resolution skills) when forming and maintaining healthy relationships with peers, family members, and others (Albiero, Matricardi, Speltri, & Toso, 2009;de Wied, Branje, & Meeus, 2007;del Barrio, Aluja, & García, 2004). Furthermore, empathy is associated with altruistic and prosocial behaviors (Eisenberg, 2000;FeldmanHall et al., 2015;Mestre, Carlo, Samper, Malonda, & Mestre, 2019;Van der Graaff, Carlo, Crocetti, Koot, & Branje, 2018), which are both linked to positive outcomes such as increases in self-esteem and academic success (Padilla-Walker & Carlo, 2014). ...
According to dynamic, relational developmental systems-based theoretical perspectives, empathy is fundamental to understanding fluctuations in adaptive functioning. Most studies measuring empathy focus on group-based statistics, assuming short-term stability and developmental equivalence across people in empathy. The present research examined person-specific short-term fluctuations in empathy and their potential relations with well-being, indexed by mood and sleep. Collecting approximately 1260 observations nested in 35 adolescents (M age = 15.91, SD = 1.69) across 16 to 18 weeks, dynamic structural equation modeling identified person-specific fluctuations in empathic concern and perspective taking. On average, fluctuations in empathy were associated with daily mood but not daily sleep. However, the relations between empathy, mood and sleep differed across participants, and age moderated the within-person relation between empathic concern and sleep. The results contribute to our understanding of person-specificity in empathy variability and highlight that adolescents' capacity for empathy may vary across time and places.
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Child psychologists and psychiatrists are interested in assessing children's personalities. This interest is fueled by the practical desire to identify differences between children that have predictive utility, and by recognition that future advances in developmental theory, especially in relation to gene-environment interplay, can only be as good as the measures on which they rely. The aim of this article is to facilitate these practical and theoretical advances. First, we delineate a taxonomy of measurable individual differences in temperament and personality in childhood, and point the reader to proven and/or promising measuring instruments. Second, we describe the processes through which early temperament differences may become elaborated into adult personality structure and lifelong adaptation, and identify gaps in the empirical research that need to be filled. Third, we explore the various connections between temperament/personality traits and psychopathology, and direct attention to promising questions and strategies.
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Change in prosocial moral reasoning over an 11-year period, gender differences in prosocial reasoning in adolescence, and the interrelations of moral reasoning, prosocial behavior, and empathy-related emotional responses were examined with longitudinal data and data from adolescents interviewed for the first time. Hedonistic reasoning declined in use until adolescence and then increased somewhat (primarily for boys). Needs-oriented reasoning, direct reciprocity reasoning, and approval and stereotypic reasoning increased until midchildhood or early adolescence and then declined. Several modes of higher level reasoning emerged in late childhood or adolescence. Girls' overall reasoning was higher than boys'. Consistent with expectations, there was some evidence of high level prosocial reasoning being associated with prosocial behavior and empathy and of a relation between sympathy or empathy and prosocial behavior.
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Reviews the literature on sex differences in empathy (defined as vicarious affective responding to the emotional state of another) and related capacities (affective role taking and decoding of nonverbal cues). The literature is discussed according to method used to assess empathy and affective role taking. Where appropriate, meta-analyses were also computed. In general, sex differences in empathy were found to be a function of the methods used to assess empathy. There was a large sex difference favoring women when the measure of empathy was self-report scales; moderate differences (favoring females) were found for reflexive crying and self-report measures in laboratory situations; and no sex differences were evident when the measure of empathy was either physiological or unobtrusive observations of nonverbal reactions to another's emotional state. Moreover, few sex differences were found for children's affective role taking and decoding abilities. (156 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This report documents children's perception of their involvement with self-development, family members, and members of the community and begins to test the relation between that network and aspects of social-emotional functioning during middle childhood. Support was conceptualized to include experiences of both relatedness to and autonomy from others. Three major types of reported support in this study using the Neighborhood Walk were considered: others as resources (e.g., persons in the peer, parent, and grandparent generation; pets), intrapersonal sources of support (e.g., hobbies; fantasies-structured and unstructured; skill development), and environmental sources of support (e.g., places to get off to by oneself; formally sponsored organizations with structured and unstructured activities; informal, unsponsored meeting places). One hundred sixty-eight children (72 7-year-olds and 96 10-year-olds), residing in nonmetropolitan and rural northern California and representing all but the lowest Hollingshead socioeconomic status, participated in this study. To assess their sources of support at home and in the neighborhood/community, each of these 168 children was taken on a Neighborhood Walk, and then several measures of social-emotional functioning were administered. Cross-sectional data form the empirical basis for a developmental perspective on sources of support, the structure of social-emotional functioning, and the relationship between sources of support and social-emotional functioning during middle childhood. The child's perception of support was found relevant to predicting the social-emotional functioning of children growing up in relatively secure and low-stress conditions in modern American society. Furthermore, a broad-based as opposed to a limited network and informal as opposed to formal sources of support were more predictive of social-emotional functioning. The empirical and theoretical relevance of considering middle childhood as a period of active development involving expansion and integration of social and affective phenomena was underscored by the results. First, it appears that the 7-year-olds have not yet developed the underlying response or habit clusters that characterize the 10-year-olds. Second, with respect to reported sources of support, 10-year-olds appear to have more elaborated sources of support than do 7-year-olds. Third, the findings confirm that developing a bridge to extended family and neighborhood resources is related to expressions of social-emotional functioning during middle childhood and that 10-year-olds appear to make effective use of more social support factors than do 7-year-olds. Finally, family size and sex of the child were key factors that interacted with specific types of support to predict social-emotional functioning.
This study presents the development and validation of an index of empathy for use with children and adolescents. 56 first graders, 115 fourth graders, and 87 seventh graders were studied. Item means, item-total correlations, test-retest reliabilities, correlations testing the relationship of empathy to aggressiveness and acceptance of individual differences, correlations testing the relationship of this adapted index of empathy to other existing measures of empathy as well as to social desirability response set and reading achievement formed the basis of internal, discriminant, convergent, and general construct validation. The measure demonstrated satisfactory reliability and preliminary construct validity. The study of a subset of items controlling for same-sex versus cross-sex stimulus figures provided the basis for investigating developmental aspects of empathic arousal toward peers of different sexes. Overall, the availability of comparable forms of a measure of empathy for use with children, adolescents, and adults will be useful for exploring the developmental antecedents and conditions surrounding the expression of emotional empathy.
Assessed the structural properties, construct validity, and temporal stability (test–retest) of the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ), a questionnaire for the measurement of the Big Five Factor Model (FFM), which includes the factors Extraversion, Agreeableness or Friendliness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability or Neuroticism, and Intellect or Openness to Experience. The assessment of the questionnaire involved 1,189 Ss (aged 16–63 yrs). The factor structure of the BFQ showed a high stability across different groups of Ss with different demographic characteristics. The factor scores showed substantial overlap with the scores for the expected 5 dimensions. The temporal stability and the internal consistency of the dimensions and facet scales were satisfactory. Finally, the construct validity was proved by correlations with standard markers of the FFM and personality factors of alternative taxonomies. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)