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PLoS One. 2017 Jun 20;12(6):e0179336. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179336. eCollection 2017.

Men, women…who cares? A population-based study on sex differences and gender roles in empathy and moral cognition.

Author information

1
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCyT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2
Departamento de Psicología, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia.
3
Grupo de Investigación Cerebro y Cognición Social, Bogotá, Colombia.
4
National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina.
5
IntraMed, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
6
Faculty of Elementary and Special Education (FEEyE), National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), Mendoza, Argentina.
7
Universidad Autónoma del Caribe, Barranquilla, Colombia.
8
Center for Social and Cognitive Neuroscience (CSCN), School of Psychology, Adolfo Ibáñez University, Santiago de Chile, Chile.
9
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Sydney, Australia.

Abstract

Research on sex differences in empathy has revealed mixed findings. Whereas experimental and neuropsychological measures show no consistent sex effect, self-report data consistently indicates greater empathy in women. However, available results mainly come from separate populations with relatively small samples, which may inflate effect sizes and hinder comparability between both empirical corpora. To elucidate the issue, we conducted two large-scale studies. First, we examined whether sex differences emerge in a large population-based sample (n = 10,802) when empathy is measured with an experimental empathy-for-pain paradigm. Moreover, we investigated the relationship between empathy and moral judgment. In the second study, a subsample (n = 334) completed a self-report empathy questionnaire. Results showed some sex differences in the experimental paradigm, but with minuscule effect sizes. Conversely, women did portray themselves as more empathic through self-reports. In addition, utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas were less frequent in women, although these differences also had small effect sizes. 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.

PMID:
28632770
PMCID:
PMC5478130
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0179336
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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