Culture, Sex, and Group-Bias in Trait and State Empathy

Empathy is sharing and understanding others’ emotions. Recently, researchers identified a culture–sex interaction effect in empathy. This phenomenon has been largely ignored by previous researchers. In this study, the culture–sex interaction effect was explored with a cohort of 129 participants (61 Australian Caucasians and 68 Chinese Hans) using both self-report questionnaires (i.e., Empathy Quotient and Interpersonal Reactivity Index) and computer-based empathy tasks. In line with the previous findings, the culture–sex interaction effect was observed for both trait empathy (i.e., the generalized characteristics of empathy, as examined by the self-report questionnaires) and state empathy (i.e., the on-spot reaction of empathy for a specific stimulus, as evaluated by the computer-based tasks). Moreover, in terms of state empathy, the culture–sex interaction effect further interacted with stimulus traits (i.e., stimulus ethnicity, stimulus sex, or stimulus emotion) and resulted in three- and four-way interactions. Follow-up analyses of these higher-order interactions suggested that the phenomena of ethnic group bias and sex group favor in empathy varied among the four culture–sex participant groups (i.e., Australian female, Australian male, Chinese female, and Chinese male). The current findings highlighted the dynamic nature of empathy (i.e., its sensitivity toward both participant traits and stimulus features). Furthermore, the newly identified interaction effects in empathy deserve more investigation and need to be verified with other Western and Asian populations.

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