The science of empathy.

(Hands: Shutterstock | Atticus Finch: Universal Pictures)

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

― Atticus Finch,
To Kill a Mockingbird

The facts about those feelings:

What science tells us about empathy.

Empathy Helps Others . . . And You Too!

• comforting others can help you deal with your own struggles
• focusing on others’ problems improves your own mood
• offering an outside perspective benefits both parties
• getting out of our own heads is good for everyone involved

(How Comforting Others Helps You with Your Own Struggles;
Helping Others Regulate Emotion Predicts . . .;
Help Me If You Can: Evaluating the Effectiveness . . .)

The 10 Most Empathetic Countries

1. Ecuador
2. Saudi Arabia
3. Peru
4. Denmark
5. United Arab Emirates
6. Korea
7. United States
8. Taiwan
9. Costa Rica
10. Kuwait

(No, Empathy Isn’t a Universal Value;
The Most and Least Empathetic Countries in the World;
Differences in Empathic Concern . . . Across 63 Countries)

The 10 Least Empathetic Countries*

1. Lithuania
2. Venezuela
3. Estonia
4. Poland
5. Bulgaria
6. Finland
7. Slovakia
8. Latvia
9. Czech Republic
10. Romania

* of the 63 countries measured for this study.

(No, Empathy Isn’t a Universal Value;
The Most and Least Empathetic Countries in the World;
Differences in Empathic Concern . . . Across 63 Countries)

Since the year 2000, empathy in U.S. college students is down by


while narcissism has been on the rise since the late 1970s.

(Shocker: Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000;
Empathy: College students don’t have as much as they used to;
No, Empathy Isn’t a Universal Value)

More money = less empathy

• poorer people read facial expressions better than the rich
• luxury car drivers are more likely to cut off other motorists
• “well off” people took more candy from a jar, left less for kids
• even fake money can cause people to be less sensitive

(How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel; The Rich Are Different: More Money, Less Empathy;
The Money-Empathy Gap; Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy;
How Wealth Reduces Compassion)

Experiencing STRESS and/or PAIN

can help you become


(Stress can increase empathy;
Experiencing Physical Pain Leads to More Sympathetic Moral Judgments)


The Empathy Museum makes it possible.


Two Types of Empathy

1. Cognitive

The ability to know how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. This kind of empathy is also known as “perspective-taking.”
Pros: Helpful when making negotiations or when trying to motivate people. Managers who are good at perspective-taking can move workers to give their best efforts.
Cons: Can be clinical and detached; people can use it to their advantage without really caring for the other person. Narcissists and sociopaths use it to actually hurt others.

2. Emotional (or Affective)

The ability to physically feel what others feel, as though their emotions were contagious. Uses brain cells called mirror neurons, which create an “echo” of another’s emotions inside our own minds.
Pros: Attunes us to another person’s inner emotional world, a plus for a wide range of professions, from sales to nursing—not to mention for any parent or lover.
Cons: An inability to manage one’s own distressing emotions can lead to paralysis and psychological exhaustion—a liability for first responders and medical professionals, who need the ability to “detach,” so they can work professionally and objectively.

A New View of Empathy

In a fractured world, can we hack our own sense of empathy and get others to become more empathic? Jamil Zaki, a psychology professor at Stanford, addresses that question, and more, in this fascinating TED talk.

Empathy: There’s an App for That

When her own research indicated that, in recent decades, young people were becoming less and less empathetic, Sara Konrath decided to do something about it.
So Konrath, assistant research professor at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan, knew that empathy was teachable, and her team created an interactive app for developing empathy in children.
The result is Random Act of Kindness, which includes a series of games and exercises to help nudge kids toward more empathy. See a preview here.
Download for IOS | Download for Android

How empathetic are you?


When you’re done, you’ll receive your empathy score.

Create your own user feedback survey

Spreng, R. N., McKinnon, M. C., Mar, R. A., & Levine, B. (2009). “The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire.” Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(1), 62-71.
Davis, M. H. (1980). “A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy.” JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

BUT . . . is empathy always good?

Empathy is

fundamentally, from a moral standpoint,

a bad thing.

It makes the world worse.

So says Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale. He explains here:

To learn more about Bloom’s thoughts on empathy, read this Boston Review essay, or check out his book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (Ecco, 2016).

6 Books to Teach Kids About Empathy

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls
PLUS: “Seven Ways to Foster Empathy in Kids” (Greater Good)

22 Great Movies About Empathy

Dig Deeper

More reading and viewing on the topic of empathy.