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Are women the more empathetic gender? The effects of gender role expectations

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The present research aimed to extend the state of knowledge regarding the relationship between self-perceived empathy and traditional gender roles and placed particular focus on the contextual conditions under which gender differences in empathy are present, can be created, or eliminated. Across two studies, women rated themselves higher in empathy than men in all experimental conditions, whereas an objective female superiority in emotion recognition was only evident in one condition. In Study 1 ( n = 736), using the term ‘social-analytic capacity’ instead of ‘empathic capacity’ increased gender differences in self-reported empathy and resulted in women performing better in the Eyes-test than men. In a neutral task (verbal intelligence), gender differences (in this case, a male superiority), were only found when participants believed that this task had an association with empathy. In Study 2 ( n = 701), gender differences in self-reported empathic capacity, but not in performance in emotion recognition, increased when motivation for empathy was raised. Further, gender-role orientation mediated the association between gender and self-reported empathic capacity, whereas it did not account for the association between gender and emotion recognition. Overall, the present studies provide strong support for the idea that empathy is influenced by contextual factors and can be systematically biased by gender roles and stereotypical beliefs.
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Are women the more empathetic gender? The effects of gender
role expectations
Charlotte S. Löffler
1,2
&Tobias Greitemeyer
2
Accepted: 3 December 2020
#The Author(s) 2021
Abstract
The present research aimed to extend the state of knowledge regarding the relationship between self-perceived empathy and
traditional gender roles and placed particular focus on the contextual conditions under which gender differences in empathy are
present, can be created, or eliminated. Across two studies, women rated themselves higher in empathy than men in all experi-
mental conditions, whereas an objective female superiority in emotion recognition was only evident in one condition. In Study 1
(n= 736), using the term social-analytic capacityinstead of empathic capacityincreased gender differences in self-reported
empathy and resulted in women performing better in the Eyes-test than men. In a neutral task (verbal intelligence), gender
differences (in this case, a male superiority), were only found when participants believed that this task had an association with
empathy. In Study 2 (n= 701), gender differences in self-reported empathic capacity, but not in performance in emotion
recognition, increased when motivation for empathy was raised. Further, gender-role orientation mediated the association
between gender and self-reported empathic capacity, whereas it did not account for the association between gender and emotion
recognition. Overall, the present studies provide strong support for the idea that empathy is influenced by contextual factors and
can be systematically biased by gender roles and stereotypical beliefs.
Keywords Empathy .Emotion recognition .Gender differences .Traditional gender role orientation .Stereotypes
For centuries, people have been just as fascinated as they have
been convinced by the idea that men and women are different
not only in physiological characteristics but also in their psy-
chological functions (Hyde 2013). The assumption that men
and women differ in their ability to be empathicto under-
stand and share the mental and affective states of others
(Singer and Lamm 2009)is one of these widespread stereo-
typical beliefs. According to this stereotype, women are
depicted as more interpersonally oriented and empathetic than
men (Christov-Moore et al. 2014).
Regarding the question to which extent this characteriza-
tion is valid, scientific studies show inconsistent results. A
large number of studies reported no significant gender differ-
ence (e.g., Kim and Lee 2010;Lammetal.2011), some re-
search demonstrated higher female competence (e.g., Baron-
Cohen and Wheelwright 2004; Hall and Matsumoto 2004;
Kirkland et al. 2013), whereas some studies even found male
superiority (e.g., Lennon et al. 1986). In sum, the evidence to
suggest a higher female competence in empathy and empathy-
related constructs is scarce.
Eisenberg and Lennons(1983) meta-analysis identified
large gender differences favoring women when empathy was
measured on self-report scales, but when more objective
methods were used to assess empathic abilities, such as phys-
iological or unobtrusive observations, these differences were
no longer evident. On this basis, they conclude that there may
rather be a female tendency to report a stronger empathic
response than an actual gender difference in empathic capac-
ity. In sum, it appears that gender differences in self-reported
empathy are largely driven by the influence of gender stereo-
types. This reasoning is in line with approaches, such as social
role theory (Eagly 1987), that highlight the importance of
social roles and expectations for gender-typed behaviors,
skills, attributes, and beliefs.
Despite the fact that there are undeniable biological differ-
ences between men and womenfor example, physiology or
hormonal balanceother authors have suggested that a num-
ber of gender differences, observed in psychological research,
*Charlotte S. Löffler
charlotte.loeffler@uni-koeln.de
1
Present address: Social Cognition Center Cologne, University of
Cologne, Richard-Strauss-Str. 2, 50931 Köln, Germany
2
University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
Current Psychology
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01260-8
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could rather arise from cultural expectations and stereotypical
beliefs than from innate attributes (e.g., Berman 1980;Hodges
et al. 2011; Ickes et al. 2000;Randetal.2016; Thomas and
Maio 2008). According to these authors, there is evidence
suggesting that the division into masculine and feminine char-
acteristics gives rise to a set of expectations that may affect the
motivation to report and demonstrate certain behaviors related
to empathy. Consequently, psychological gender differences
could be a result of the tendency to imitate same-gender
models because there are gender-specific rewards and punish-
ments for certain behaviors (Hyde 2013).
Evidence for this hypothesis comes from several studies in
the field of empathic accuracy, in which participantspreci-
sion to assess the thoughts and feelings of others is evaluated.
After Graham and Ickes (1997) conducted seven studies with-
out detecting any gender differences, three subsequent studies
indicated a higher empathic accuracy of female participants.
These findings were probably the result of a small change in
the instrument they used: The revised instrument required the
participants to estimate the degree of accuracy in inferring the
other persons thoughts and feelings instead of just inferring
the general emotional tone as positive, negative, or neutral.
Graham and Ickes concluded that the first instrument was less
obvious in focusing on the measurement of empathy than their
slightly modified version. A further meta-analysis by Ickes
et al. (2000) demonstrated that womens higher accuracy
was only present in situations where the participants had to
estimate their level of accuracy after each task. Based on the
theory of Eisenberg and Lennon (1983), Ickes et al. (2000)
concluded that the observed gender differences would rather
reflect the differential motivation of men and women than
actual disparities in empathic ability.
Subsequently, Klein and Hodges (2001)demonstrated
that a female advantage within empathic accuracy could
only be determined if the participants had been present-
ed with the task to estimate their empathetic sympathy
towards the target person. When the participants were
rewarded financially for their accuracy, the performance
of both genders increased, and gender differences were
eliminated completely. Considering these results, it
seems possible that women and men need different mo-
tivators to develop their full empathic potential.
In another study (Thomas and Maio 2008), men were not
motivated solely by monetary rewards, but also by a specific
reframing of the desirability and usefulness of empathic abil-
ities. The authors were able to demonstrate that male partici-
pants assessed the emotions of others more accurately if they
believed that higher empathy would make them more attrac-
tive to women. On the other hand, there was no effect when
men were asked todisprove the stereotype that depicts them as
poor mind-readers. It can be assumed that the accuracy with
which people can assess the feelings and thoughts of others is
further affected by other motivational factors, such as the
attractiveness of the target and the degree of personal interest
in it (Ickes et al. 1990).
Other motivational aspects of expressing higher empathic
capacity are deeply rooted beliefs about men and women that
are referred to as stereotypes. There is evidence to suggest that
women are more concerned than men about how empathic
they appear to othersand probably also themselves
(Eisenberg and Lennon 1983). Since being nurturant and in-
terpersonally oriented are both part of the stereotypical femi-
nine role, women likely have a higher motivation to present
themselves as empathic irrespective of their actual traits
(Thomas and Maio 2008). This implies that, in situations
when gender-role expectations are made salient, a female su-
periority may reflect the higher feminine motivation to present
oneself consistently with the stereotype (Ickes et al. 2000).
In this regard, the magnitude of many gender-specific dif-
ferences identified through psychological research varies
greatly and is determined by several influencing factors.
Accordingly, large gender differences can be both created
and erased by the context (Hyde 2013). As a prominent ex-
ample, Spencer et al. (1999) could demonstrate that a gender
difference in mathematical abilities, which is often assumed
stereotypically, was only evident if the stereotype was specif-
ically referred to in the experiment. When, on the other hand,
participants were informed that previous experiments had not
yielded any difference between men and women, no gender
effects were observed.
How important the context can be in the assessment of
empathy demonstrates an experiment by Nanda (2013). In line
with the results of Eisenberg and Lennon (1983), a gender
difference in self-reported empathy was only conspicuous
when participants were aware that they were evaluated in their
empathic capacity. However, no significant gender difference
was found when participants were led to believe that the task
assessed social abilities in general.
Another crucial factor was shown to be the traditional
gender-role orientation. In a study by Karniol et al. (1998),
self-reported empathy had no association with masculinity,
but was highly correlated with femininity. When gender-role
orientation was included as a covariate, the main effect of
biological sex on empathy was no longer significant.
Accordingly, the authors concluded that it may not be the
biological sex that determines the level of empathic capacity,
but the female gender-role orientation.
Based on these previous results and theoretical consider-
ations (such as social role theory), the present research focuses
on the relationship between traditional gender-role orientation
and a potential gender-specific motivation for empathy, in that
we aimed to systematically evaluate the interactions between
gender, self-reported empathic capacity, and objective perfor-
mance in emotion recognition under differing experimental
variations. In Study 1, we explicitly informed the participants
about the fact that empathy was assessed or led them to
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believe that the task measured social-analytic abilities’—a
term that we expected to be less deterrent for male partici-
pants. Additionally, we used a task that evaluated verbal in-
telligence as a neutral instrument to see if participants would
demonstrate higher motivation, respectively higher empathy
scores, when they believed that there is a relationship between
empathy and verbal intelligence. If our reasoning is correct,
gender differences in self-reported empathic capacity
(Hypothesis 1a) and objective emotion recognition
(Hypothesis 1b) will be smaller in the social-analytic condi-
tion, whereas there will be gender differences in the neutral
task when participants believe that verbal intelligence is asso-
ciated with empathy (Hypothesis 1c).
The aim of Study 2 was to induce a different motivation for
empathy across experimental conditions. Participants in one
condition received a framing of empathy as an essential skill
that yields numerous benefits, whereas the other condition
functioned asa control group. We expected to observe smaller
gender differences in both self-reported empathic capacity
(Hypothesis 2a) and objective emotion recognition
(Hypothesis 2b) in the motivation condition. In addition, we
hypothesized that the relationship between biological sex and
both measurements of empathy would be mediated by tradi-
tional gender-role orientation (Hypothesis 3a, Hypothesis 3b).
The data were collected in two online questionnaires, con-
ducted at the same time. One link to the two online question-
naires, interconnected by a random generator, was distributed
via Facebook and SurveyCircle. Additionally, students from
other disciplines than psychology were invited via a university
mailing list. No compensation for participation was provided,
but participants could register anonymously to enter a prize
draw for three Amazon vouchers. No formal approval from an
ethics committee was required at our university, under the
provision that the research was in line with the guidelines of
the German Psychological Society. Participation in the study
was voluntary, and the data were collected and analyzed anon-
ymously. Only participants older than 18 years were allowed
to participate.
Since effect sizes vary greatly in previous research, a small
effect size of f= .16 was used as an estimator of the expected
effect size. Using G*Power (Faul et al. 2009), the required
sample size for a two-way ANOVA with a power of .80 was
N= 644. Hence, for the final samples, the number of partici-
pants required was calculated to be 644 for each study. When
testing a priori predictions, as it is the case in the present
research, planned comparisons provide the best statistical test
of possible mean differences across conditions (Rosenthal and
Rosnow 1985;Steiger2004). Therefore, aside from
employing an overall 2 X 2 analysis of variance, we addition-
ally relied on the statistically more powerful planned con-
trasts. In both studies, the majority of the data were assessed
in a forced-choice format. However, for the performance
tasks, 75% of missing answers were tolerated under the
assumption that a partial completion of the test could reflect
not just a differential capacity but also a differential motiva-
tion of the participants to present themselves as empathic. For
the same reason, there was no time limit set to complete the
tasks.
Study 1
The aim of Study 1 was to examine to which degree gender-
role expectations influence self-reports of empathy and objec-
tive performance in emotion recognition. Inasmuch as the ste-
reotype depicts women as more empathetic and better mind-
readers, we presumed that females have a motivational advan-
tage when it comes to displaying empathic behaviors.
To test this assumption, participants were randomly
assigned to two experimental conditions. In both conditions,
self-reports of empathy and performance in emotion recogni-
tion were assessed. Whereas participants in the empathy con-
dition were explicitly informed about the fact that the tasks
assessed empathy (in the subsequent tasks, your empathic
capacity will be assessed), participants in the second condi-
tion were informed that the tasks assessed social-analytic
abilities(in the subsequent tasks, your social-analytic capac-
ity will be assessed), because we expected this term to be less
deterrent for male participants. Based on the results of
Eisenberg and Lennon (1983), we predicted that gender dif-
ferences in self-reported empathic capacity (Hypothesis 1a)
and objective performance in emotion recognition
(Hypothesis 1b) would be smaller when individuals are not
aware that empathy is measured. In both conditions, verbal
intelligence was assessed as a neutral capacity and was not
expected to have a reliable association with empathy (e.g.,
Koch et al. 2007). Whereas participants in the social-analytic
condition were informed about the true nature of this task,
participants in the empathy condition were told that empathy
and verbal intelligence had a strong positive association. We
expected to observe differences in gender-specific perfor-
mance between the two conditions if women indeed have a
higher motivation in proving their empathic capacity
(Hypothesis 1c). To examine the possible mediating influence
of gender-role expectations, we assessed the traditional
gender-role orientation of all participants.
Method
Participants In Study 1, 80 participants were excluded from
the analyses because they were non-native speakers of
Germana condition that had to be fulfilled to complete the
verbal intelligence task. Further, nine participants were ex-
cluded because they defined their gender as neither male nor
female. The final sample comprised 736 participants (494 fe-
males, 242 males; mean age = 25.5, SD =8.3).
Curr Psychol
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Procedure and Materials Participants were randomly assigned
to either be instructed that their empathic capacity or their
social-analytic capacity would be assessed. Subsequently, em-
pathy was assessed on a self-report scale. To this end, the
German short version (Samson and Huber 2010)ofthe
Empathy Quotient (EQ) by Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright
(2004) was employed. It contained 13 items (α=.85).
Sample item: I can easily tell if someone else wants to enter
a conversation.All items were assessed on a scale from 1
(strongly agree)to4(strongly disagree). According to
Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright (2004), strongly agreere-
sponses scored 2 points, slightly agreeresponses scored 1
point, and the remaining options scored 0 points. These scores
were then summed. Performance in emotion recognition was
assessed with the German version of the Reading the Mind in
the EyesTest (Baron-Cohen et al. 1997; revised version
Baron-Cohen et al. 2001; German version Bölte 2005). It
contains 36 black and white photographs of the eye region
(α= .61), providing four different mental state terms to select
the correct answer from (e.g., playful,comforting,irri-
tated,bored).
As a manipulation check, participants were asked to report
if either empathic capacity or social-analytic capacity had
been assessed in the previous tasks. The manipulation check
was partially successful, in that 66.8% in the empathy condi-
tion and 69.6% in the social-analytic condition were able to
provide the expected answer. Given that the pattern of the
main findings remained unchanged when excluding partici-
pants that had not passed the manipulation check, the follow-
ing analyses are based on all participants.
Subsequently, participants were again provided with
condition-specific information. Whereas participants in the
empathy condition were informed that the following task
would assess their verbal intelligence and there would be a
strong association between empathy and verbal intelligence,
participants in the social-analytic condition were told that the
following task assessed verbal intelligence. Subsequently,
verbal intelligence was assessed with the Mehrfach-
Wortschatz-Intelligenztest (MWT-B) by Lehrl (2005), which
is exclusively available in German. This performance test
originally contains 37 items in the course of which the degree
of difficulty rises gradually (α= .64). To keep the task as short
as possible, only the last 15 items were used in the present
research. Every item in the MWT-B consists of five words
(e.g., Tuhl Lar Lest Dall Lid), from which only
one word is an existing term in German; the other four are
nonsense words. Participants are required to identify the true
term, in this case, Lid(also translated as a/the lid). For the
subsequent assessment of gender role orientation, the
Traditional Masculinity and Femininity Scale (TMF) by
Kachel et al. (2016) was employed. Published both in
English and in German, this scale contains 6 items (α=.94),
which can be completed on a scale from 1 (very masculine)
to 7 (very feminine). Sample item: Iconsidermyselfas…”
After providing their demographic information, participants
were asked to guess the purpose of the study. (None of the
participants was able.) They were also asked to voluntarily
leave their e-mail addresses for the prize draw and pointed
to the possibility of contacting the study leader.
Results
Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of the measures are
reported in Table 1. Overall, across both conditions, gender
was weakly negatively associated with self-reported empathy
and emotion recognition, suggesting a female superiority. In
contrast, verbal intelligence was positively associated with
gender, suggesting a higher male performance. As expected,
gender-role orientation showed a strong negative association
with gender. Self-reported empathy was positively associated
with emotion recognition and feminine gender-role orienta-
tion, whereas emotion recognition was associated with verbal
intelligence and, again, feminine gender-role orientation, al-
though this second correlation was smaller than the first one.
In turn, gender-role orientation was negatively associated with
verbal intelligence, suggesting an association with
masculinity.
To examine whether gender effects in self-reported empa-
thy would be smaller when empathy was assessed as a social-
analytic capacity (Hypothesis 1a), a two-way ANOVA was
performed on the data. There was a significant main effect of
gender, F(1, 732) = 14.69, p=.000, η2
p=.02;femalepartici-
pants (N= 494, M= 14.05, SD = 5.32) reported higher em-
pathic capacities than male participants (N=242,M=12.44,
SD = 5.13). The main effect of condition was non-significant,
F(1, 732) = .16, p=.688,η2
p= .00, reflecting that the empathic
condition (N= 371, M= 13.60, SD = 5.31) and the social-
analytic condition (N= 365, M= 13.44, SD = 5.31) did not
differ, as well as there was a non-significant interaction effect
between gender and condition, F(1, 732) = .64, p=.425,η2
p=
.00.
As noted above, the statistically more powerful planned
comparisons provide a better test of our hypotheses
(Rosenthal and Rosnow 1985; Steiger 2004). To this end,
we computed a new variable, distinguishing between the
groups female/empathic (N= 262, M=13.97, SD =5.35),
male/empathic (N= 109, M= 12.72, SD = 5.13), female/
social-analytic (N=232, M= 14.14, SD = 5.30), and
male/social-analytic (N= 133, M= 12.22, SD = 5.13). There
was homogeneity of the error variances, as assessed by
Levenestest(p> .05). The four groups significantly differed,
F(3, 732) = 5.28, p=.001,η
2
= .02. Planned contrasts demon-
strated a significant difference between female/empathic and
male/empathic, t(732) = 2.10, p=.036,r=.12.Wealsofound
a significant difference between female/social-analytic and
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male/social-analytic,t(732) = 3.35, p= .001, r= .18.
Therefore, women rated themselves significantly higher in
empathy across both conditions. Unexpectedly, however,
when participants believed that their social-analytic capacities
were assessed, gender differences tended to be more pro-
nounced (see Fig. 1).
To further examine whether gender effects on perfor-
mance in emotion recognition would be smaller when
empathy was assessed as a social-analytic capacity
(Hypothesis 1b), a two-way ANOVA was conducted.
Female participants (N= 494, M= 24.62, SD = 4.00) had
higher scores than male participants (N= 242, M=
23.47, SD = 4.56), F(1, 732) = 11.54, p= .001, η2
p=
.02. There was a non-significant main effect of condi-
tion, F(1, 732) = 0.57, p= .449, η2
p= .00, reflecting that
theempathiccondition(N= 371, M=24.33, SD =4.14)
and the social-analytic condition (N= 365, M= 24.14,
SD = 4.31) did not differ. The interaction effect between
gender and condition was non-significant, F(1, 732) =
1.61, p=.205, η2
p=.00.
To further test for possible mean differences across condi-
tions, planned contrasts were performed. Again, we distin-
guished between the four groups female/empathic (N=262,
M= 24.54, SD = 3.90), male/empathic (N= 109, M= 23.83,
SD = 4.65), female/social-analytic (N= 232, M=24.71,
SD = 4.12), and male/social-analytic (N=133, M= 23.17,
SD = 4.48). There was homogeneity of the error variances,
as assessed by Levenestest(p> .05). The four groups signif-
icantly differed, F(3, 732) = 4.65, p=.003, η
2
=.02.Planned
contrasts demonstrated a non-significant difference between
female/empathic and male/empathic, t(732) = 1.47, p=.142,
r= .08. In contrast, there was a significant difference between
female/social-analytic and male/social-analytic, t(732) = 3.38,
p=.001,r= .18. Accordingly, the pattern of the first analysis,
evaluating gender effects on self-reported empathy
(Hypothesis 1a), was replicated for the performance in emo-
tion recognition. In this case, there was no significant differ-
ence in the performance of males and females when partici-
pants were informed that their empathic capacities would be
assessed, whereas women performed significantly better in
emotion recognition than men when they believed that their
social-analytic capacities were assessed. Therefore, contrary
to our expectations, gender differences were not smaller when
empathy was assessed as a social-analytic capacity, but actu-
ally more pronounced (Fig. 1).
To determine gender effects on a neutral performance
task (verbal intelligence) when participants believed that
this task was strongly associated with empathy
(Hypothesis 1c), a further two-way ANOVA was per-
formed on the data. There was a significant main effect
of gender, F(1, 732) = 12.51, p= .000, η2
p= .02; female
participants (N= 494, M=8.06, SD = 2.59) had lower
scores than male participants (N= 242, M=8.76, SD =
2.59). The main effect of condition was non-significant,
F(1, 732) = 1.13, p=.288, η2
p= .00, reflecting that the
empathy condition (N= 371, M=8.30, SD = 2.71) and
the verbal intelligence condition (N= 365, M= 8.28,
SD = 2.50) did not differ. There was a significant inter-
action effect between gender and condition, F(1, 732) =
4.06, p= .044, η2
p=.01.
To further test for possible mean differences across condi-
tions, planned contrasts were analyzed. We distinguished be-
tween the groups female/empathy (N=262, M=7.97, SD =
2.66), male/empathy (N=109,M=9.10, SD =2.68),female/
verbal intelligence (N=232, M=8.16, SD =2.51), and
male/verbal intelligence (N= 133, M= 8.47, SD = 2.49).
There was homogeneity of the error variances, as assessed
by Levenestest(p> .05). The four groups significantly dif-
fered, F(3, 732) = 5.32, p=.001, η
2
= .02. Planned contrasts
demonstrated a significant difference between female/
empathy and male/empathy, t(732) = 3.84, p= .000,
r= .21. In contrast, there was a non-significant difference be-
tween female/verbal intelligence and male/verbal intelligence,
t(732) = 1.10, p= .271, r= .06. Hence, male participants
performed better than female participants on the verbal intel-
ligence task when they were led to believe that empathy and
verbal intelligence were associated. On the other hand, there
were no significant gender differences when participants were
solely told that we would assess their verbal intelligence.
While we originally expected women to outperform men
Table 1 Means, Standard
Deviations, Bivariate
Correlations with internal
consistency reliabilities
(CronbachsAlpha)inthe
diagonal (Study 1)
MSD12345
1. Gender
a
––
2. Self-reported empathy 13.52 5.31 .14** (.85)
3. Emotion recognition 24.24 4.23 .13** .20** (.61)
4. Verbal intelligence 8.29 2.61 .13** .01 .08* (.64)
5. Gender-role orientation
b
4.48 1.61 .85** .17** .10** .14** (.94)
N=736.
a
1 = female, 2 = male.
b
1 = very masculine 7 = very feminine
*p< .05, ** p<.01
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when they believed that empathy and verbal intelligence were
associated, men actually achieved higher results in this condi-
tion (Fig. 1).
Analyses for the possible mediating impact of traditional
gender-role expectations (Hypothesis 3a, Hypothesis 3b) will
be reported for Studies 1 and 2 combined (see below).
11
12
13
14
empathy
condition
social-analytic
condition
SELF-REPORTED EMPATHY
men women
22
23
24
25
empathy
condition
social-analytic
condition
EMOTION RECOGNITION
men women
6
7
8
9
empathy
condition
neutral
condition
NEUTRALTASK
(verbal intelligence)
men women
Fig. 1 The influence of the experimental variations on the magnitude of gender differences across measures of self-reported empathy, performance in
emotion recognition, and performance on a neutral task (verbal intelligence)
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Discussion
Study 1 lends initial support for the hypothesis that self-
reported empathy and even performance in emotion recogni-
tion are subject to contextual influences. While women rated
themselves significantly higher in empathic capacity, there
was no significant gender difference in performance in emo-
tion recognition when participants were told that empathy was
measured. However, when they were told that their social-
analytic capacity would be assessed, we observed more pro-
nounced gender differences both in self-reported empathy and
performance in emotion recognition, indicating a female su-
periority. This result is remarkable, insofar as we expected the
term social-analytic to be less deterrent for male participants
and less influenced by the subtle gender stereotype that is
associated with the term empathy. In fact, using the word
social-analytic increased and even created gender differences
not only in self-reported capacity but also in performance in
emotion recognition. In addition, we exclusively detected gen-
der differences in the neutral task (verbal intelligence) when
participants believed thatitwaslinkedtoempathy.
Unexpectedly, in this case, men outperformed women by
solving significantly more items on the verbal intelligence
task. The fact that verbal intelligence was weakly associated
with masculine gender role orientation across the full sample
cannot provide an explanation for this effect because gender
differences were only evident in the condition that had re-
ceived the manipulation. Overall, Study 1 provides evidence
that both self-reported empathy and objective performance in
emotion recognition can be influenced through a subtle exper-
imental variation and that even a presumed association with
the concept of empathy might induce gender differences.
Study 2
Study 2 examined the impact of an experimentally induced
external motivation on empathy. As noted above, we assumed
that women have a higher motivation to demonstrate their
empathic capacity, in order to present themselves consistently
with the common stereotype (Eisenberg and Lennon 1983).
Therefore, it seems possible that men need different motiva-
tors to demonstrate their full empathic potential, as it was
shown for financial rewards (Klein and Hodges 2001) and
reframing empathy as a desirable and useful ability (Thomas
and Maio 2008). To test this idea, in one condition, partici-
pants received a short text that emphasized the importance of
empathy in daily life and depicting numerous benefits em-
pathic persons would have. We expected this condition to
produce smaller gender differences in both self-reported em-
pathy (Hypothesis 2a) and objective performance in emotion
recognition (Hypothesis 2b), compared to a control condition
where no benefits of being empathic were mentioned.
Method
Participants The structure of Study 2 was similar to Study 1,
except for the employment of different stimuli and control
tasks. Further, the MWT-B (to assess verbal intelligence)
was not employed. Two participants were excluded from the
analyses because they defined their gender as neither male nor
female. Furthermore, three participants were excluded be-
cause they provided fewer than 25% of the answers for the
Eyes-Test. The final sample of Study 2 comprised 701 partic-
ipants (478 females, 223 males; mean age = 25.9, SD =8.6).
Procedure and Materials Participants were randomly assigned
to one of two experimental conditions. In the motivation con-
dition, participants got informed that the following task was
meant to assess their empathic capacity. In the subsequent
briefing, empathy was framed as a highly important skill in
social interaction. Participants were told that studies had
shown empathic individuals to be more attractive to the oppo-
site gender, to have closer friendships, less mental problems,
and even receive a higher salary. In contrast, participants in
the control condition were solely told that the following task
assessed their empathic capacity. Subsequently, participants
completed the 13 items from the EQ (α=.85)andthe36items
from the Eyes-Test (α=.56).
After the tasks, we included a manipulation check,
consisting of 3 items (α= .72). Participants were asked if they
believed that (1) empathy was a desirable feature, (2) empathy
would yield benefits for their life, and (3) empathic persons
would be perceived more positively. These items were
assessed on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to4(strong-
ly agree). As there were no significant differences between
the motivation (M=3.61, SD = 0.45) and the control condi-
tion (M=3.56,SD = 0.49), it is unclear whether the manipu-
lation had the intended effects. We will return to the issue of
the failed manipulation check in the discussion of this study.
The control-scale was followed by the TMF (α=.94) and
the assessment of demographics. Participants were asked to
Table 2 Means, Standard Deviations, Bivariate Correlations with
internal consistency reliabilities (Cronbachs Alpha) in the diagonal
(Study 2)
MSD1234
1. Gender
a
––
2. Self-reported empathy 13.66 5.23 .18** (.85)
3. Emotion recognition 24.51 3.93 .09* .16** (.56)
4. Gender-role orientation
b
4.44 1.54 .83** .19** .10* (.94)
N=736.
a
1 = female, 2 = male.
b
1 = very masculine 7 = very feminine
*p< .05, ** p<.01
Curr Psychol
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guess the purpose of the study. (None of the participants did it
correctly.) Subsequently, they could leave their e-mail address
for the prize draw and were pointed to the possibility of
contacting the study leader.
Results
Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of the measures are
reported in Table 2. As in Study 1, gender was negatively
associated with self-reported empathy, emotion recognition,
and gender role orientation. Again, self-reported empathy
was associated with performance in emotion recognition and
feminine gender role orientation. Further, emotion recognition
wasassociatedwithfemalegenderroleorientation.
To examine whether gender effects in self-reported empa-
thy would be smaller in the motivation condition (Hypothesis
2a), a two-way ANOVA was conducted. There was a signif-
icant main effect of gender, F(1, 697) = 23.48, p<.001, η2
p=
.03; female participants (N=478, M=14.30, SD = 5.16) re-
ported higher empathic capacities than male participants (N=
223, M=12.28,SD = 5.12). The main effect of condition was
non-significant, F(1, 697) = 0.38, p=.538,η2
p=.00,reflecting
that the motivation condition (N=353,M=13.85,SD =4.97)
and the control condition (N=348,M=13.47,SD = 5.48) did
not differ. The interaction between gender and condition was
also non-significant, F(1, 697) = 0.79, p=.373, η2
p=.00.
To test for possible mean differences across conditions,
planned comparisons were performed. As in Study 1, a new
variable was computed, distinguishing between the four
groups female/motivation (N= 240, M= 14.62, SD = 4.86),
male/motivation (N= 113, M=12.22, SD = 4.84), female/
control (N= 238, M= 13.99, SD = 5.45), and male/control
(N=110, M=12.34, SD = 5.41). There was homogeneity of
the error variances, as assessed by Levenestest(p> .05). The
four groups significantly differed, F(3, 697) = 8.45, p<.001,
η
2
= .04. Planned contrasts demonstrated that female/
motivation was significantly different from male/motivation,
t(697) = 4.08, p<.001,r= .22. There was also a significant
difference between female/control and male/control, t(697) =
2.78, p=.006,r= .15. Therefore, there were gender effects in
self-reported empathic capacity in both conditions and gender
effects were not smaller but slightly more pronounced in the
motivation condition.
To examine whether gender effects in emotion recognition
would be smaller in the motivation condition compared to the
control condition (Hypothesis 2b), a two-way ANOVA was
conducted. There was a significant main effect of gender, F(1,
697) = 5.80, p=.016, η2
p= .01; female participants (N=478,
M=24.75,SD = 3.84) performed better than male participants
(N=223,M=23.99,SD = 4.07). There was a non-significant
main effect of condition, F(1, 697) = 0.90, p=.343, η2
p=.00,
reflecting that the motivation condition (N=353,M=24.68,
SD = 3.87) and the control condition (N=348, M= 24.34,
SD = 3.98) did not differ. The interaction between gender
and condition was also non-significant, F(1, 697) = 0.19,
p=.660,η2
p=.00.
To further test for possible mean differences across
conditions, planned contrasts were analyzed. Again, it
was distinguished between the groups female/
motivation (N=240, M= 24.98, SD =3.66),
male/motivation (N= 113, M= 24.07, SD = 4.26),
female/control (N= 238, M= 24.53, SD = 4.01), and
male/control (N= 110, M= 23.91, SD = 3.88). There
was homogeneity of the error variances, as assessed
by Levenestest(p> .05). The four groups did not sig-
nificantly differ, F(3, 697) = 2.47, p= .061, η
2
= .01.
However, planned contrasts demonstrated that female/
motivation was significantly different from
Gender Emotion recognition
-.84*** (.02)
(-.10*) -.11***
Gender role
orientation
Gender Self-reported
empathy
-.84*** (.15**)
(-.04) -.16***
Gender role
orientation
Fig. 2 Mediation of the
relationship between gender and
self-reported empathy (top) and
emotion recognition (bottom) by
gender role orientation.
Coefficients in parentheses are
parameter estimates containing
both predictors. * p< .05, **
p< .01, *** p < .001
Curr Psychol
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male/motivation, t(697) = 2.03, p= .043, r=.12. In con-
trast, there was a non-significant difference between
female/control and male/control, t(697) = 1.38, p=.167,
r=.08.
To test whether gender role orientation would account for
the association of gender and self-reported empathy
(Hypothesis 3a), the data of both studies were combined, be-
cause the structure of Study 1 and 2 were nearly identical. To
this end, the PROCESS macro for SPSS (Hayes 2018)was
employed. This analysis revealed a significant negative total
effect between gender and self-reported empathy (β=1.81,
p< .001). Gender was significantly negatively associated with
gender role orientation, while gender role orientation was also
associated with self-reported empathy. Whereas the direct ef-
fect between gender and self-reported empathy was no longer
significant (β=.44, p= .41), the indirect effect of gender on
self-reported empathy via gender role orientation was signifi-
cant βa*b = 1.37. The bootstrap confidence interval of the
indirect effect (95% CI [2.26; .45]) does not include 0,
suggesting that the association of gender and self-reported
empathy was mediated by gender role orientation. This medi-
ation effect, based on regression analyses, is shown in Fig. 2.
To test if this pattern could be replicated for emotion rec-
ognition (Hypothesis 3b), a further mediation analysis was
conducted. It revealed a significant negative total effect be-
tween gender and the number of solved items in the Eyes-Test
(β=.97, p< .001). Gender was significantly negatively as-
sociated with gender role orientation, while gender role orien-
tation was not associated with performance in emotion recog-
nition. The direct effect between gender and performance in
emotion recognition was significant (βc=.86, p= .039),
whereas the indirect effect of gender on performance in emo-
tion recognition via gender role orientation was non-
significant (βa*b = .11). Since, the bootstrap confidence in-
terval of the indirect effect (95% CI [.90; .65]) includes 0, the
association of gender and performance in emotion recognition
was not mediated by gender role orientation (Fig. 2).
Discussion
Study 2 provides evidence that implicit gender role orientation
influences self-reported empathy and that a motivational
reframing of empathy as a desirable and useful ability can
have an impact on gender differences in empathy. In this re-
gard, it is important to keep in mind that our manipulation
check was not successful in that participants in the motivation
condition were not more likely to perceive empathic capacity
to be an important skill in social interactions than were partic-
ipants in the control condition. Given that the effectiveness of
our motivation manipulation could not be established, we
have to concede that no strong causal conclusions are warrant-
ed and that future research employing other ways to induce a
motivation to appear empathic would be very welcome.
In addition, we found the relationship between gender and
self-reported empathy fully mediated by gender role orienta-
tion, whereas gender role orientation did not account for the
relationship between gender and emotion recognition.
Therefore, it indeed appears that it is not the biological sex
that determines how empathic people rate themselves but the
gender role orientation and the expectations that come with
feminine and masculine gender identities. In contrast, gender
role orientation appears to have no detectable influence on the
ability to recognize and determine emotions in others.
General Discussion
The present studies advance our knowledge regarding the re-
lationship between the concept of empathy and traditional
gender roles and demonstrates how a slight linguistic variation
in one term (Study 1) or a motivational reframing of empathy
(Study 2) can effectively create more pronounced gender dif-
ferences. As previous research has shown, gender differences
are most evident when empathy is assessed on self-report
scales or when gender role expectations are made salient,
but these differences become smaller or completely undetect-
able when more objective measurements are used (Eisenberg
and Lennon 1983; Ickes et al. 2000). In line with these results,
women rated themselves as significantly more empathic than
men in all four conditions, while a female superiority in emo-
tion recognition was only evident in the condition where em-
pathy was referred to as social-analytic capacity. On this
basis, the present studies lend strong support for the idea that
there is a female tendency to report a stronger empathic re-
sponse rather than an actual difference in male and female
ability, as a number of authors have already suggested (e.g.,
Berman 1980; Eisenberg and Lennon 1983; Hodges et al.
2011; Ickes et al. 2000; Thomas and Maio 2008).
However, the assumption that gender differences in self-
reported empathic capacity and performance in emotion rec-
ognition would be smaller when participants were not aware
of the true nature of the tasks (Hypothesis 1a, Hypothesis 2a)
could not be verified, as our experimental setup could not
conceal the fact that empathy was measured by using the term
social-analytic capacity. It is conceivable that, in the present
case, the term social-analyticappeared too sophisticated or
even artificial and, as a consequence, had a deterrent effect on
some participants, whereas, in the female sample, it apparently
raised motivation for empathy. On the other hand, it is also
conceivable that the term socialhas a higher emotional con-
notation than the term analytic’—so it might have
overshadowed it. As a result, gender differences in both self-
reported empathic capacity and objective emotion recognition
were more pronounced when we used the term social-analyt-
ic capacitycompared to the term empathic capacity.
Against this background, it seems reasonable to suppose that
Curr Psychol
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the term social-analytic,whichwasoriginallymeanttobe
more neutral and less influenced by stereotypical beliefs than
the term empathy, had the opposite effect and created gender
differences in the performance in emotion recognition that
were not observable when using the term empathy.
Regarding our hypothesis that gender differences on a neu-
tral task (verbal intelligence) are more pronounced when par-
ticipants believe that it is related to empathy (Hypothesis 1c),
unexpectedly, we detected a male superiority in verbal intel-
ligence when we evoked the association with empathy.
Hence, it seems possible that even a presumed association
with empathy might induce differences in the performance
of men and women. But remarkably, in this case, men might
have had a higher motivation and outperformed women when
they were led to believe that a concept, with which they were
familiar with, was related with empathy. The fact that verbal
intelligence was weakly associated with masculine gender
role orientation across the full sample cannot provide an ex-
planation for this effect, because gender differences were only
evident in the condition that had received the manipulation.
WhileinStudy1wewereabletomanipulateemotionrecog-
nition by using an alternative term for empathy, emotion recog-
nition was not significantly influenced in Study 2 by using ex-
ternal motivators (Hypothesis 2b). This result is contrary to some
previous research in the field of empathic accuracy (Klein and
Hodges 2001; Thomas and Maio 2008) that demonstrated that
appropriate motivators could indeed increase the performance in
emotion recognition. However, regarding self-reported empathic
capacity, we did demonstrate more pronounced gender-
differences in the condition that had received the motivation
(Hypothesis 2a). This result suggests that external motivations
can indeed manipulate self-reports and lends support for the no-
tion that the context can play a key role in self-perception. But at
this point, we have to concede that the stimuli we used to raise
motivation for empathy turned out to be weak, as suggested not
only by the failed manipulation check, but also the fact that we
could only demonstrate a small motivational effect in females.
Apart from this, our research managed to demonstrate that
the association between gender and self-reported empathy was
fully mediated by gender role orientation (Hypothesis 3a),
whereas gender role orientation did not account for the rela-
tionship between gender and emotion recognition (Hypothesis
3b). Together with the finding that a female superiority in
emotion recognition was detected in only one case when the
context had been manipulated successfully, these results pro-
vide strong evidence that a female superiority in empathy and
related constructs does not reflect the differential ability of
men and women and may indeed be a stereotypeastereo-
type that causes women to present themselves as empathic,
because being caring and interpersonally oriented are part of
the traditional feminine role. On the other hand, men may tend
to underestimate their full empathic potential in the absence of
appropriate external motivators. It is also important to point
out that in both studies there was only a moderate correlation
between the self-reported empathy measure and the perfor-
mance in the emotion recognition task. Taken together, the
belief to be empathic may not be reflected in actual empathy.
As noted above, an important limitation of the present re-
search is the failed manipulation check in Study 2. Hence, no
strong conclusions are warranted how the motivation to ap-
pear empathic has an impact on gender differences in empa-
thy. Furthermore, most of the present findings were small in
terms of their effect sizes. In fact, analyses of variance did not
reveal significant interaction effects (with one exception), but
only the more statistically powerful planned comparisons
yielded significant effects.
In conclusion, the present studies provide evidence that
self-reported empathy and even objective performance in
emotion recognition can both be influenced by the contextual
setting, and that even a presumed association with the concept
of empathy might induce gender differences. In addition, it was
demonstrated that there is indeed a female tendency to report
stronger empathic responses, while our results did not suggest a
major female superiority in emotion recognition. We find it
remarkable that at the present time that is characterized by
reshaping traditional gender roles and societal structures empa-
thy still appears to be perceived as a typical feminine trait.
Therefore, it is questionable to use self-reports of empathy as
a measure for actual empathic capacity in research. This is not
only suggested by the fact that the association between gender
and self-reported empathy was fully mediated by gender role
orientation, but also by the weak correlation between self-
reported empathy and performance in emotion recognition
and that self-reported empathy was shown to be highly depen-
dent on the experimental context. Against this background,
some scientific results in this field might have been systemati-
cally biased by implicit gender stereotypes and that differences
between males and females had been overestimated.
Regarding the present research, a female superiority in emo-
tion recognition was only found in one of our experimental con-
ditions. But even if there is indeed such a small female advan-
tage, as Kirkland et al. (2013)andWarrieretal.(2018) suggested
in their meta-analyses, it is important to keep in mind that the
concept of gender differences is too narrow to map and explain
the huge variety of inter-individual differences that are observ-
able in psychological research and that a female advantage in
empathy and related constructs could rather reflect a combination
of biological factors, differing experience, socialization, and cul-
tural expectations, which in turn appear to be mediated by some
form of motivation (Hodges et al. 2011). The specific interactions
between these factors remain to be determined by future studies.
Another important question concerns the implementation of al-
ternative instruments for measuring objective empathic re-
sponses, such as physiological or unobtrusive observations.
Further, it would be of interest to address whether other con-
structs, that are likewise afflicted by gender stereotypes (e.g.,
Curr Psychol
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emotionality, dominance, or intuitive processing), are also
context-dependent and are influenced by gender role orientation
in a similar way. Until then, it is important not to overemphasize
these potential differences because, as Hyde (2013) has pointed
out, gender similarities are as interesting and as important as
gender differences.
Funding Open Access funding provided by University of Innsbruck and
Medical University of Innsbruck.
Data Availability The data for both studies are publicly available here:
https://osf.io/w38bv/.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of
interest.
Ethics Approval The authors declare that the study was performed in
accordance with the ethical standards of the German Psychological
Society. In such a case (when ethical guidelines are met), our university
requires no formal approval from an ethics committee.
Informed Consent Participantswere informed that the data are analyzed
anonymously, that participation is voluntary, and that they can withdraw
at any time.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adap-
tation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as
you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, pro-
vide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were
made. The images or other third party material in this article are included
in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a
credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's
Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by
statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain
permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this
licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
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... It is argued that the female gender significantly and positively affects attitudes toward people with ASD (Cage et al., 2019;Jensen et al., 2016;Kuzminski et al., 2019;Obeid et al., 2015;Wang et al., 2012), but this finding is not consistent in all studies (Jones et al., 2021;Matthews et al., 2015). Women's positive attitudes may be attributed to their level of empathy, as most studies on empathy indicate that women show higher levels of empathy than men taking into consideration contextual factors and stereotypical beliefs (Löffler & Greitemeyer, 2021). Furthermore, younger participants had significantly higher scores in all the subscales of the Greek SATA scales, as well as significantly lower overall scores. ...
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This study examined the validity of the Greek version of the Societal Attitudes Towards Autism (SATA) scale in a Greek community sample (n = 633) and explored how the demographic variables of the sample modulate knowledge and attitudes regarding people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The principal component analysis confirmed the three-dimension model and explained 40.5% of the variance. All Cronbach’s alpha values obtained were over 0.70. SATA’s subscales were significantly and positively correlated, indicating good internal reliability. Participants presented moderate knowledge about ASD and mediocre positive attitudes towards people with ASD. Gender, age, and educational level significantly affected SATA total scores. Overall, this Greek version of SATA showed acceptable psychometric properties, indicating that can be a reliable scale for use.
... Secondly, we expect an officer's gender to be linked to SSD and PPJ. From a gender role perspective (Eagly et al., 2000;Eagly & Kite, 1987), females are often perceived to be more empathic (Löffler & Greitemeyer, 2021;Wodahl et al., 2013) and concerned with the well-being of others (Eagly et al., 2020). Additionally, female officers have been found to apply a motivational/rehabilitative treatment style more frequently than their male counterparts (Molleman & van der Broek, 2014). ...
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In this paper, we study what factors contribute to the extent that detained individuals (a) perceive their time in detention as severe and (b) perceive their treatment by prison staff as procedurally just. More specifically, the aim of the study is to examine the antecedents of subjective severity of detention (SSD) and perceived procedural justice (PPJ) with the aim to identify individual and situational characteristics that contribute to such perceptions. Our analyses were based on data from the Prison Project (n = 1430), which includes detailed information on measures of SSD, and PPJ among Dutch males held in Dutch penitentiary institutions. Based on their SSD and PPJ scores, detained individuals were classified as belonging to one of four subgroups (reference group, high SSD, high PPJ, or high both). Using a large set of background variables, we found that older age, a less elaborate criminal history, no daily drug use before arrest, not having experienced any victimization by prison staff, and the personality traits of neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness were the most relevant antecedents for ‘high both’ subgroup membership.
... On the other hand, men and women score similarly in most individual components that make up empathy, such as perspective-taking, ability to identify and describe feelings, and altruistic behavior [37,39]. This has been theorized to be a result of women tending to more readily report empathetic experiences or to meet societal expectations to be more empathic [40]. Finally, there was no difference in the average age between the high and low empathy groups, which is consistent with a prior study showing no relationship between age and GP empathy [4]. ...
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Background General Practitioners’ (GPs) professional empathy has been hypothesized to have substantial impact on their healthcare delivery and medication prescribing patterns. This study compares profiles of personal, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics of GPs with high and low empathy. Methods We apply an extreme group approach to a unique combined set of survey and drug register data. The survey included questions about demographic, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics, as well as the Jefferson Scale of Empathy for Health Professionals (JSE-HP) to assess self-reported physician empathy. It was sent to a stratified sample of 1,196 GPs comprising 30% of the Danish GP population of whom 464 (38.8%) GPs responded. GPs in the top and bottom decile of empathy levels were identified. All intra- and inter-profile descriptive statistics and differences were bootstrapped to estimate the variability and related confidence intervals. Results 61% of GPs in the top decile of the empathy score were female. GPs in this decile reported the following person-centered factors as more important for their job satisfaction than the bottom decile: The Patient-physician relationship, interaction with colleagues, and intellectual stimulation. High-empathy scoring GPs prescribed significantly less penicillin than the low-empathy GPs. This was true for most penicillin subcategories. There were no significant differences in age, practice setting (urban vs. rural), practice type (partnership vs. single-handed), overall job satisfaction, or GP’s value of prestige and economic profit for their job satisfaction. The intra profile variation index and confidence intervals show less prescribing uncertainty among GPs with high empathy. Conclusions This study reveals that high empathy GPs may have different personal, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics than low empathy GPs and have less variable empathy levels as a group. Furthermore, person-centered high empathy GPs on average seem to prescribe less penicillins than low empathy GPs.
... 32 This was unlike another study by Löffler CS, Greitemeyer T where they have reported female empathy scores to be 14.62 ± 4.86 and male empathy scores to be 12.22 ± 4.84. 33 Presentation of the gender correlation was greatly subjected to other confounding emotional influences including intellectual capabilities, motivation, and response to societal influences. ...
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... 32 This was unlike another study by Löffler CS, Greitemeyer T where they have reported female empathy scores to be 14.62 ± 4.86 and male empathy scores to be 12.22 ± 4.84. 33 Presentation of the gender correlation was greatly subjected to other confounding emotional influences including intellectual capabilities, motivation, and response to societal influences. ...
... On the other hand, men and women score similarly in most individual components that make up empathy, such as perspective-taking, ability to identify and describe feelings, and altruistic behavior [37,39]. This has been theorized to be a result of women tending to more readily report empathetic experiences or to meet societal expectations to be more empathic [40]. Finally, there was no difference in the average age between the high and low empathy groups, which is consistent with a prior study showing no relationship between age and GP empathy [4]. ...
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Background General Practitioners’ (GPs) professional empathy has been hypothesized to have substantial impact on their healthcare delivery and medication prescribing patterns. This study compares profiles of personal, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics of GPs with high and low empathy. Methods We apply an extreme group approach to a unique combined set of survey and drug register data. The survey included questions about demographic, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics, as well as the Jefferson Scale of Empathy for Health Professionals (JSE-HP) to assess self-reported physician empathy. It was sent to a stratified sample of 1,196 GPs comprising 30% of the Danish GP population of whom 464 (38.8%) GPs responded. GPs in the top and bottom decile of empathy levels were identified. All intra- and inter-profile descriptive statistics and differences were bootstrapped to estimate the variability and related confidence intervals. Results 61% of GPs in the top decile of the empathy score were female. GPs in this decile reported the following person-centered factors as more important for their job satisfaction than the bottom decile: The Patient-physician relationship, interaction with colleagues, and intellectual stimulation. High-empathy scoring GPs prescribed significantly less penicillin than the low-empathy GPs. This was true for most penicillin subcategories. There were no significant differences in age, practice setting (urban vs. rural), practice type (partnership vs. single-handed), overall job satisfaction, or GP’s value of prestige and economic profit for their job satisfaction. The intra profile variation index and confidence intervals show less prescribing uncertainty among GPs with high empathy. Conclusions This study reveals that high empathy GPs may have different personal, professional, and antibiotic prescribing characteristics than low empathy GPs and have less variable empathy levels as a group. Furthermore, person-centered high empathy GPs on average seem to prescribe less penicillins than low empathy GPs.
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This study was funded by grants from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc., the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Autism Research Trust, the Institut Pasteur, the CNRS and the University Paris Diderot. VW is funded by St. John’s College, Cambridge, and Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. The research was carried out in association with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The research was supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (grant number R44HG006981). The National Science Foundation (grant numbers 0729493 and 0721707) supported the research on the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study. FU was supported by the British Friends of Haifa University, the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 449/14), the British Friends of Hebrew University, and the Joseph Levy Charitable Foundation. TB was supported by the Institut Pasteur and the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation. We thank the research participants and employees of 23andMe for making this work possible. We also thank the volunteers of the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study and the NIHR Cambridge BioResource.
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In most of the research concerning empathy and its relation to prosocial behavior in children, picture/story indices of empathy have been used. There is reason, however, to question both their validity and the results of research findings based on their use. Thus, the purposes of the present study were (a) to examine the relation between prosocial behavior and preschoolers' state and trate empathy (as measured with) indices of the children's facial and gestural responsiveness to another's distress), and (b) to determine the association between the commonly used picture/story measure of empathy (Feshbach and Roe's [1968] Affective Situations Test for Empathy [FASTE]) and both prosocial behavior and the nonverbal indices of empathy. Thirty-five preschool children's facial and gestural empathy was measured on two occations; prosocial behavior was assessed on three occasions; and the FASTE was administered to all children. The three indices of facial/gestural empathy tended to be interrelated and stable over a week's time (with the exception of gestural responses). For boys, facial reactivity was related to helping of those with whom they had empathized. Facial and gestural empathy, but not FASTE scores, were significantly positively related to a composite measure of anonymous prosocial behavior. Performance on the FASTE was unrelated to facial/gestural empathy, but was associated with girl' private donations.
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