Are Women More Empathetic Than Men? A Longitudinal Study in Adolescence

By Mestre, María Vicenta; Samper, Paula et al. | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Are Women More Empathetic Than Men? A Longitudinal Study in Adolescence


Mestre, María Vicenta, Samper, Paula, Frías, María Dolores, Tur, Ana María, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


Since the 1970s there has been a growing interest in analysing sex differences in psychological variables. Empirical studies and meta- analyses have contributed evidence on the differences between male and female individuals. More recently, the gender similarities hypothesis has supported the similarity of men and women in most psychological variables. This study contributes information on women's greater empathic disposition in comparison with men by means of a longitudinal design in an adolescent population. 505 male and female adolescents aged between 13 and 16 years were evaluated at two different moments (grade 2 and grade 3, lower secondary education). They completed the Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents by Bryant and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index by Davis. The results confirm a greater empathic response in females than in males of the same age, differences growing with age. The sizes of the effect estimated in the second evaluation (average age 14 years) are large for emotional empathy and medium for cognitive empathy.

Keywords: empathy, gender differences, adolescence

Desde la década de los 70 se incrementa el interés por analizar las diferencias de género en las variables psicológicas y se publican estudios empíricos y trabajos de meta-análisis que aportan evidencia de las diferencias entre varones y mujeres. Más recientemente se ha planteado la hipótesis de la similitud de género que defiende la semejanza entre varones y mujeres en la mayoría de los constructos psicológicos. Este estudio aporta datos sobre la mayor disposición empática en la mujer respecto al varón a través de un diseño longitudinal en población adolescente. 505 adolescentes varones y mujeres, con un rango de edad entre 13 y 16 años fueron evaluados en dos momentos temporales (2? y 3? curso de ESO). Cumplimentaron el Índice de Empatía de Bryant y el Índice de Reactividad Interpersonal de Davis. Los resultados confirman mayor respuesta empática en las adolescentes respecto a los varones de su misma edad y constatan que dichas diferencias aumentan con la edad. Los tamaños del efecto estimados en el segundo momento (edad media 14 años) son grandes en la empatía emocional y medios en la cognitiva.

Palabras clave: empatía, diferencias de género, adolescencia

Systematic attempts to reach conclusions about sex differences and similarities became important in the 1970s in psychology. The book by E. E. Maccoby and C.N. Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex Differences (1974), is considered by psychologists to be the greatest effort ever made in summarising all sex comparisons carried out by psychological research (Eagly, 1995). The authors posed a number of questions: Are both sexes different as to their emotional response to people and events? Is their strength to cope with problems different? Are such differences unavoidable or the result of arbitrary social stereotypes that could change if society changed? Their review of almost 1,400 papers on sex differences in psychological variables allowed them to conclude that well grounded sex differences point to women's greater communication skills versus men's better visual-spatial and mathematical ability and greater physical and verbal aggression. In contrast, results were ambiguous in many other variables such as fear, anxiety, competitiveness, control-submission, and also empathy and the will to help others. With regard to the latter two variables, findings on altruism displayed gender similarities (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). On the other hand, in his review of the subject, Hoffman (1977) differentiated between measures of empathy defined as an emotional response to the others' affective condition, and perspective taking and social sensitivity measures, concluding that women were more empathetic than men. In 1983, a comprehensive review published by Eisenberg and Lennon on sex differences in the tendency to be empathetic found sex differences in favour of women, empathy being also understood from the emotional and cognitive perspective and comparing different instruments. …

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