No matter where they live in the world, no matter what their cultural or family influences are: women are generally better at empathizing with other people than men, according to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS.
The researchers, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, said the study is the largest of its kind to date to look at a particular form of empathy, something scientists call “theory of mind” or “cognitive empathy.” “.
Empathy is an important quality because it governs the way people interact socially and impacts the way their personal relationships develop.
Cognitive empathy is when a person is intellectually capable of understanding what another person might be thinking or feeling, and can even use that knowledge to predict how the person will act or feel in the future. So, if, for example, a person tells you that they had a bad time with their family during the holidays, a person with cognitive empathy will understand how that bad moment makes them feel by intellectually putting themselves in that other person’s place, so what to talk
It is different from another type of empathy called affective or emotional empathy, when one person feels the emotions of another person and responds with an appropriate reaction or emotion. For example, if someone is crying over a broken relationship, a person with emotional empathy will also start to feel sad and feel compassion for that person as a result.
there are a test on the Cambridge University website that tests both forms of empathy. To conduct this new study, the researchers used a different test – something called the “Mind Reading Test in the Eyes”, or “Eye Test” for short. It helps measure a person’s ability to recognize another person’s state of mind or emotions.
The test asks participants to look at photos of the area around a person’s eyes. The person is making a particular type of facial expression, and the study participant must identify what that person is thinking or feeling from a set of possibilities. Scientists often use this test to help determine if someone has mental or cognitive problems. Previous research has shown that people with autism, for example, often score lower on these tests; so do people with dementiaand people with eating disordersamong others.
To see if cultural differences affected empathy scores, data was collected from teams around the world. The study authors worked at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University in the United States, Bar-Ilan University and the University of Haifa in Israel, as well as in Italy at the IMT School of Advanced Studies in Lucca. By merging their results with large samples from different online platforms, the study authors were able to capture results from nearly 306,000 people in 57 countries, including Argentina, Croatia, Egypt, India, Japan, and Norway.
Across 36 countries, women on average scored significantly higher on cognitive empathy than men. In 21 of the countries, the scores of women and men were similar. There was not a single country in which men scored better, on average, than women. The results were maintained in eight languages and were consistent throughout life, from people aged 16 to 70.
The scientists observed what author David M. Greenberg called a “shallow decline” in cognitive empathy as people aged.
“That superficial decline in empathy raises some questions about what are the contributing factors that are at play,” he said. Greenbergpsychologist and researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge.
The study could not determine why this decline occurs. Greenberg said it could be partly biological; maybe there are hormonal changes going on in the body, or it could be something socially or environmentally impacting this as well.
The study also couldn’t explain why women had so much more cognitive empathy than men, nor could it address individual differences between participants.
The study is based previous investigations who came to the same conclusion: that women have higher cognitive empathy scores than men.
in some of those previous studiesSometimes sex differences in empathy were attributed to biological and social factors.
Some studies in animals and in babies they also show this sex difference in empathy. There may be different genetic pathways underlying the development of this type of empathy in the different sexes.
Understanding sex differences in empathy could help researchers better understand why certain mental health problems affect more men than women. This latest study could also help scientists develop better support for people who may have difficulty reading facial expressions, the researchers said.
“This study clearly demonstrates a largely consistent sex difference across countries, languages and ages,” said study co-author Carrie Allison, who is director of applied research at the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge, in a press release. “This raises new questions for future research on the social and biological factors that may contribute to the observed average sex difference in cognitive empathy.”