Evidence suggests that there are differences in the capacity for empathy between males and females. However, how deep do these differences go? Stereotypically, females are portrayed as more nurturing and empathetic, while males are portrayed as less emotional and more cognitive. Some authors suggest that observed gender differences might be largely due to cultural expectations about gender roles. However, empathy has both evolutionary and developmental precursors, and can be studied using implicit measures, aspects that can help elucidate the respective roles of culture and biology.
This article reviews evidence from ethology, social psychology, economics, and neuroscience to show that there are fundamental differences in implicit measures of empathy, with parallels in development and evolution. Examinations of the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy reveal important quantitative gender differences in the basic networks involved in affective and cognitive forms of empathy, as well as a qualitative divergence between the sexes in how emotional information is integrated to support decision making processes.
Finally, the study of gender differences in empathy can be improved by designing studies with greater statistical power and considering variables implicit in gender e. These improvements may also help uncover the nature of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders in which one sex is more vulnerable to compromised social competence associated with impaired empathy.
Promoting prosocial, cooperative behavior, and understanding or predicting the behavior of others Smith, Empathy has been studied from many perspectives Davis, ; Decety and Moriguchi, ; Zaki and Ochsner, For example, social psychology has examined the manifestations of empathy within moral reasoning and social behaviors like mimicry e. These two aspects of empathy can be roughly mapped onto affective or pre-reflective and cognitive reflective empathic predispositions, respectively Smith, Affective empathy is associated with activity in frontoparietal, temporal, and subcortical regions classically associated with movement, sensation, and emotion, while neural Legal age teenager hen and zaki pound each other involved in cognitive control and decision-making — such as the cingulate, prefrontal, and temporal areas — are often activated during tasks requiring cognitive empathy see Fig.
Neuroscientific approaches to studying experience sharing and mentalizing. The blue circle represents brain regions engaged by direct, first-person experience of an affective response, motor intention, or other internal state.
The yellow circle represents regions engaged by third-person observation of someone else experiencing the same kind of internal state. How are these two primary modes of empathizing — cognitive empathy and affective empathy — related?
While affective empathy involves pre-reflective processes, humans seem nevertheless capable of consciously and unconsciously modulating it. Furthermore, humans are capable of internally evoking emotions, behaviors, and sensations of an absent other, or even of ourselves at another point in time. We are also capable of inhibiting our internal states and reflexive responses to others. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that mirroring is modulated by numerous contextual factors, such as social distance, status, trustworthiness, group membership, and attention Bernhardt and Singer, ; Gu and Han, ; Guo et al.
Conversely, some authors propose that mentalizing and social decision-making may employ information derived from mirroring Iacoboni et al. Proposed relationship between mentalizing and mirroring processes and their accompanying brain systems. Recent studies suggest that a large portion of the ability to read intentions derive from pre-reflective mechanisms for processing biological motion Obhi,and studies of empathic accuracy have shown that accurately discerning the internal states of others, as well as inferring intentions from observed behavior, relies on the interaction between mirroring and mentalizing processes Liew et al.
While we now associate the mentalizing system with decision-making, musing about others etc.
In our view, this seems likely for two reasons: Furthermore, neural systems associated with mentalizing have been implicated in the control of behavioral mirroring mimicry Spengler et al. Indeed, recent evidence from our group Christov-Moore and Iacoboni, under revision suggests that mirroring areas and mentalizing areas exist in interaction rather than as independent systems. This larger dynamic system formed by the interactions between mirroring and mentalizing may allow individuals to revisit past experience and behavior, predict the consequences of their own behaviors, both for themselves as well as for others, and to selectively share in the behavior and affective states of others in response to context such as common group affiliation.
An understanding of empathy would be incomplete without a consideration of individual differences.
Popular conceptions of gender 1 — defined here as reflecting both self-identification i. However, empathy and gender remain difficult to define, in part because the disciplines that study them use distinct and often non-overlapping methods and terminology. While this difficulty is not something we can address in this article, we should keep it in mind when considering the evidence reviewed here.
In reviewing gender differences in empathy, we propose to address two questions: However, meta-analyses examining gender and sex differences in empathy provide results supporting fairly stable gender differences across a broad range of measures e.
Additionally, empathy has developmental precursors in early infancy Alexander and Wilcox, ; McClure, as well as evolutionary precursors in other social animals Preston and De Waal, Indeed, there is considerable overlap between empathetic behaviors demonstrated in young humans early in development and in nonhuman animals.
Thus, in addition to examining implicit measures of empathy, we can look to developmental and evolutionary precursors of empathy for a more complete view of sex differences.
The second question this review Legal age teenager hen and zaki pound each other address is the nature of empathy itself, that is, what are its core biological and neural underpinnings? Are individual differences in the behavioral manifestations of empathy, such as social competence or prosocial behavior, due to differences in low-level processes like emotional reactivity, or higher level functions like spatial reasoning or theory of mind ToM?
Which components of empathy emerge first during ontogeny, and does each component accomplish a specific proximate or ultimate function throughout development? To what Legal age teenager hen and zaki pound each other, and in what way, is empathy modulated and controlled by higher cognitive functions? As recent cognitive neuroscience reviews have suggested Zaki and Ochsner,the relationship between the principal components of empathy, as they are currently studied, remains unclear.
Although several scholars agree that emotional and cognitive component of empathy underpin a broad range of empathic responses, a global concept of empathy remains elusive, and this is in large part due to a lack of cross-talk among the disparate fields that study it. Studying gender differences in empathy might provide insights to understanding empathy by observing whether such differences covary across different measures.
For example, if we were to find consistent gender differences in both affective empathy and prosocial behavior, but less consistent differences in cognitive empathy, we might infer that affective empathy drives prosocial behavior.
To address these issues, we structured this review into four parts.
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First, we will examine the evolutionary precursors of empathy. Then, we will review gender differences related to the psychological and behavioral processes associated with empathy.
Sex differences in empathy will be also evaluated from an ontogenetic point of view. Lastly, we will review evidence suggesting that gender differences assessed at behavioral and psychological level are supported by specific neural substrates. Instead, empathic responses are often revealed by immediate responses of the body e. Empathy should therefore be better understood as a multilayered phenomenon. There is general agreement that one of the most basic forms of empathy is a fast, stimulus-driven response that aligns the motor behavior of the observer and the observed Carr et al.
This fast response appears to be the basis of emotional contagionin which emotions spread from individual to individual through mimicry, for instance, when someone smiles and observers immediately do the same Lakin et al.
A number of studies show that vocalizations, postures, and movements are often mimicked without awareness e. For example, as Darwin wrote:. When a public singer suddenly becomes a little hoarse, many of those present may be heard, as I have been assured by a gentleman on whom I can rely, to clear their throats; but here habit probably comes into play, as we clear our own Legal age teenager hen and zaki pound each other under similar circumstances.
Ben-Ami Bartal et al. In some species, the bond between individuals is expressed through sophisticated emotional channels that have been shaped through a long natural history. For example, capacities to cooperate, to support conspecifics during conflicts, and to provide comfort to social partners in distress have been widely described in primates and other animals e.
Plotnik and de Waal, ; chimpanzees: In support of this hypothesis, recent empirical studies in gelada baboons have demonstrated that the speed and frequency of rapid facial mimicry Fig.