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(Schumann + 2014)

Title:   Addressing the empathy deficit: beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging
DOI or Website Link:
Publication: Paper
  • Schumann, Karina; 
  • Zaki, Jamil;
  •  Dweck, Carol S. 
Date:   2014
Schumann, Karina; Zaki, Jamil; Dweck, Carol S. (2014): Addressing the empathy deficit: beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 107 (3), S. 475-93. DOI: 10.1037/a0036738.

Empathy is often thought to occur automatically. Yet, empathy frequently breaks down when it is difficult or distressing to relate to people in need, suggesting that empathy is often not felt reflexively. Indeed, the United States as a whole is said to be displaying an empathy deficit. When and why does empathy break down, and what predicts whether people will exert effort to experience empathy in challenging contexts?

Across 7 studies, we found that people who held a malleable mindset about empathy (believing empathy can be developed) expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who held a fixed theory (believing empathy cannot be developed).

Specifically, a malleable theory of empathy--whether measured or experimentally induced--promoted
  • (a) more self-reported effort to feel empathy when it is challenging (Study 1);
  • (b) more empathically effortful responses to a person with conflicting views on personally important sociopolitical issues (Studies 2-4);
  • (c) more time spent listening to the emotional personal story of a racial outgroup member (Study 5); and
  •  (d) greater willingness to help cancer patients in effortful, face-to-face ways (Study 6). Study 7 revealed a possible reason for this greater empathic effort in challenging contexts: a stronger interest in improving one's empathy.
Together, these data suggest that people's mindsets powerfully affect whether they exert effort to empathize when it is needed most, and these data may represent a point of leverage in increasing empathic behaviors on a broad scale.

Topic Area:

(How was empathy defined?)

"Empathy is central to adaptive social functioning (Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). It predicts diverse positive outcomes, such as conflict resolution (e.g., White, 1985), unprejudiced intergroup attitudes (e.g., Vescio et al., 2003), altruistic helping behavior (e.g., Batson et al., 1988), and lower levels of antisocial behavior (e.g., bullying; Ireland, 1999)." (p. 487)

  • malleable mindset (believing empathy can be developed)

Methods for training empathy are only suggesting analogous to training peoples theories about the malleability of inteligence: "To create lasting changes that promote long-term effects on empathic effort, an intervention could be modeled after past interventions designed to change people’s theories of intelligence (e.g., Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell et al., 2007). These interventions use multiple strategies, such as teaching a malleable theory over several sessions, offering vivid analogies to explain the idea of malleability, or asking participants to help others understand that intelligence is malleable." (p. 488)

Target Group:  
Random people recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk
Scales were contrived off by the authors themselves

People who hold the theory that they can expand their empathy are willing to invest more empathic effort in empathically challenging situations like interracial encounters, in-group/out-group encounters, conflicting political views, emotionally demanding, etc.

Posted By:  
 Sascha Bosetzky

This is a must read!!! And it quotes right in the beginning.