Women, On Average, Have More Empathy

It’s not exactly shocking to learn that a new study has found that women, on average, are better than males at putting themselves in other people’s shoes in terms of thoughts and feelings. But it is worth noting that the study spanned 57 countries and included more than 300,000 people.

If you’re curious how researchers could measure empathy, read on.

Details of the Study

A team of multidisciplinary researchers, led by Cambridge University with a variety of additional collaborating facilities analyzed data from 305,726 participants (ages 16 to 70) in 57 counties. The scientists used the Eyes Test, a well-established assessment of theory of mind that asks participants to pick which word best describes what the person in the photo is thinking or feelings—simply by viewing photos of the eye region of the face.

The study, which merged large samples from different online platforms, provided the much-needed diversity of different ages, cultures, and geographies, something that smaller independent studies didn’t provide.

The Results

In 36 countries, women, on average, scored significantly higher than males. In 21 countries, women, on average, scored similar to men. In no country did men, on average, outscore women.

“Our results provide some of the first evidence that the well-known phenomenon—that females are, on average, more empathic than males—is present in [a] wide range of countries across the globe,” explains Dr. David M. Greenberg, lead scientist on the study and a Zuckerman Scholar at Bar-Ilan University and Honorary Research Associate at Cambridge. “It’s only by using very large data sets that we can say this with confidence.”

Another interesting find from the study: The difference between an individual’s drive to systemize and drive to empathize (D-score) was a significant negative predictor of scores of the Eyes Test. This reflects a 2018 study’s results, which found that among 650,000 participants, D-scores accounted for 19 times more of the variance in autistic traits than did sex or any other demographic variable.

The results were published in the December 30, 2022 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

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