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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013 Mar;68(2):168-75. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs055. Epub 2012 Aug 3.

Empathic concern and perspective taking: linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult life span.

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  • 1Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, USA.



We investigated linear and quadratic effects of age on self-reported empathy in three large cross-sectional samples of American adults aged 18-90 years.


Participants completed subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1983), allowing us to independently assess an emotional component of empathy ("empathic concern") and a cognitive component of empathy ("perspective taking") across the adult life span.


For both measures and in all three samples, we found evidence for an inverse-U-shaped pattern across age: Middle-aged adults reported higher empathy than both young adults and older adults. We also found a consistent gender difference: Women reported more empathy than men. We did not find systematic differences by ethnicity. However, neither gender nor ethnicity interacted with age effects.


We discuss the inverse-U-shaped age pattern, in terms of aging versus cohort influences, and how it complements and extends the existing literature on empathy and age.

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