Empathy is a fundamental quality that plays an essential role in developing our personal relationships with others. It aids us to interact socially. A person is considered ‘cognitively empathetic’ or ‘socially intelligent’ when they can understand others’ emotions and can predict other people’s reactions in future situations using this perceived knowledge.
Interestingly, the majority of the time, people preferably turn to their female friends to seek such kind of emotional support or empathy. Could there be a scientific explanation for this?
According to the latest findings, women are proven to be more empathetic than men. The Researchers of the University of Cambridge, UK, conducted a study recently in which large samples obtained from over 300,000 participants across 57 countries from different online platforms were collected and merged.
What is the ‘Eyes test’ and its role in this research?
To measure their cognitive empathy, the participants were subjected to a sophisticated test called ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test’– or the ‘Eyes Test’ for short – in which they were asked to look at the photos showcasing the area around the eyes of a person and then pick a word that best describes that person’s emotions.
The Eyes test is often used by scientists to determine if someone has mental or cognitive problems as people suffering from disorders like autism, dementia and eating-disorder etc., score low on this test. The test also reveals that many people face difficulty in reading facial expressions due to various reasons, and research in this direction could help scientists to develop better support for such individuals.
In 36 countries, women on average scored higher than men on this test whereas in 21 countries both genders scored the same. Interestingly, not even in a single country did men, on average, score more than women. The results held across 8 languages, a spectrum of age groups, and 57 different countries proved that irrespective of where they live, their cultural backgrounds or age; in general, women tend to be more empathetic than men.
|Women are more empathic than men|
Image credits: pexels
What did the Scientists say about their research?
David M Greenberg, the lead scientist on the study, stated that their results have provided some of the first evidence on the well-known phenomenon – that females are on average more empathic than males. The co-author of this study, Carrie Allison said that this study clearly demonstrates a largely consistent sex difference across countries, languages, and ages. However, Simon Baron-Cohen, another study co-author further added that studies of on-average sex differences say nothing about an individual’s mind or aptitudes.
While the latest study is unable to explain the observed shallow decline in cognitive empathy as we age, as well as why this sex difference in cognitive empathy exists, the scientists suspect biological factors like hormonal changes or environmental factors as the reason behind it. The research effectively raises new questions for future studies about these social and biological factors that could be contributing to this.
To conclude, it is now scientifically accurate to say that women are better than men at putting themselves in others’ shoes and bearing a higher ‘social intelligence’.
This research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
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