A new, large-scale study found little difference between levels of empathy in men and women. The authors argue that previous studies have relied on self-reports, to which men and women likely respond along gender stereotypes: that women are more empathic than men.
The authors asked men and women to complete a self-report, which did find differences. But they also had more than 10,000 people take part in an experiment and found "minuscule" differences. They summarize the results:
These findings suggest that sex differences in empathy are highly driven by the assessment measure. In particular, self-reports may induce biases leading individuals to assume gender-role stereotypes. Awareness of the role of measurement instruments in this field may hone our understanding of the links between empathy, sex differences, and gender roles.
We may be biased, thinking women are nurturing caregivers, and men, well, aren't. At work, do we assume that women are better listeners, maybe better leaders because they do a better job of relating and understanding how others feel?
I happen to be reading Alan Alda's new book, If I understood you, would I have this look on my face? It's entertaining (it's Alan Alda!), but he also delves into the concept of empathy and whether it can be developed. He sponsored research that showed good evidence for people being more empathic after logging others' emotions. People were given an app and asked to enter emotions of people they interacted with throughout the day. Based on an assessment, the more actively people attended to others' emotions, the more their empathy improved.
Alda references an online assessment: Reading the Mind in the Eyes. I just looked at the first question, and I already failed: hateful, jealous, arrogant, or panicked?
- Do the survey results about men and women surprise you? Why or why not?
- What's your own experience with sex differences and empathy?
- Did you take the online assessment? How did you do? Better than I did on the first question?