Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Psychometric Properties of the Chinese Version of the Positive Empathy Scale among Undergraduates

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Psychometric Properties of the Chinese Version of the Positive Empathy Scale among Undergraduates

Article excerpt

Empathy is the process by which individuals infer the affective states of others by generating isomorphic affective states in themselves, while retaining self-other awareness (Engen & Singer, 2013). It allows human beings to predict and understand each other's emotions, thereby facilitating successful social interactions. Psychologists have attached great importance to empathy and developed a series of tools to measure this mental ability. Among these, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983) is one of the most widely used in trait empathy research.

However, self-report questionnaires measuring human beings' empathic abilities have been focused primarily on empathy as it relates to negative emotions. For example, the IRI has two factors measuring the emotional components of empathy: empathic concern, that is, other-oriented compassion or concern for unfortunate others, and personal distress, that is, self-oriented reactions to another's extreme distress. Researchers using the IRI have noted that participants' empathic abilities are positively correlated with the intensity of their emotional response to others' misfortunes, but not to others' positive emotional events (Perry, Hendler, & Shamay-Tsoory, 2012). This implies that positive empathy and negative empathy might be two highly related but independent psychological structures. Therefore, the study of people's ability to share others' positive emotions requires new tools.

Although psychological research on trait positive empathy, which is defined as the ability of an individual to share and to understand others' positive emotions (Morelli, Lieberman, & Zaki, 2015; Sallquist, Eisenberg, Spinrad, Eggum, & Gaertner, 2009), is still in its infancy, it has recently received increased attention. Morelli et al. developed the 7-item Positive Empathy Scale (PES) for use with adults. The PES has been found to have adequate psychometric properties and can, therefore, be considered effective for measuring positive empathy.

As all social and historical environments have their own unique cultures, it is yet to be established whether or not the meaning and conceptual structure of positive empathy, as defined in Western studies, remains stable across different cultures. Therefore, we translated and explored the psychometric properties of a Chinese version of the PES, to verify its cross-cultural application.


Participants and Procedure

We recruited participants for this three-stage study using convenience sampling. Potential participants for Sample 1 (N = 500) were undergraduates from universities in Chongqing and Shandong. The final sample consisted of 428 respondents (85.6%) after excluding invalid survey forms. Potential participants in Sample 2 (N = 600) were undergraduates from universities in Chongqing and Sichuan. The final sample consisted of 503 respondents (83.8%) after excluding invalid survey forms. Faculty members distributed the survey forms to the students for completion during class and collected them at the end of the class period. In the third phase, 87 participants from Sample 1 completed the Chinese version of the PES 4 weeks after the initial testing to evaluate its test-retest reliability; this group comprised Sample 3.

Ethics Statement

The Ethics Committee of Southwest University granted ethical approval for the study. Written consent was obtained from the students before the study began, and all participated voluntarily.


Positive Empathy Scale. The original PES (Morelli et al., 2015), includes seven items measuring positive empathy, which are rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = does not describe me at all to 5 = describes me very well). Scores range from 7 to 35, with a higher composite score indicating a stronger tendency to share, celebrate, and enjoy others' happiness. The PES has been reported to have strong internal reliability (Cronbach's alpha = . …

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