Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Sara Konrath

Sara Konrath and Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy

Sara Konrath is Assistant Research Professor at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan. Sara is the Principal Investigator of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR) which is a research lab with a primary focus on the costs and benefits of empathy and related traits (e.g. emotional intelligence, narcissism) and behaviors (e.g. helping, caregiving). They examine the causes, consequences, and changes in such topics from a variety of perspectives, including psychophysiological and neurological.  

She writes; "Imaginatively taking on another person's thoughts and identifying with their emotions are two habits at the core of empathy. In fact, empathy is not a fixed trait like having brown eyes or long fingers. Empathy is instead a delicate cocktail blending assorted elements of inborn aptitude, social conditioning, personal history, and practice and motivation.


The ability to empathize is like a muscle capable of growth, atrophy, disability, and even regeneration (think Scrooge). People have different innate capacities for building certain muscles, just as we have different incentives for being empathetic and experiences in honing our skills to empathize. For some people, empathy comes easily and naturally; for others, concerted effort is required to stretch our imaginations beyond ourselves."


We held an engaging two hour discussion about the nature of empathy and how to foster it.
Sub Conference: Science




Sara Konrath and Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy Sara Konrath





Rock Ethics Institute Expanding Empathy Series: Changes Over Time in Empathy, Sara Konrath






Empathy no universal value - what now, democracy?
By Sara Konrath,
"Emotional concern for others is arguably one of the building blocks of a well-operating democracy. But what if there is no clear pattern to how compassion works?

Empathy varies a lot among people, psychological research has found. But it also varies widely among countries and cultures. When my colleagues and I set out to analyse the largest study on empathy ever done - 104,365 people from 63 countries - we expected to learn whether the extent to which we tune into others’ emotional cues clearly differs by culture.

Instead, we were left with a number of new questions about what we mean - here and in other countries - when we talk about empathy. I originally got involved in studying empathy because I was raised by a single mother with seven siblings, and felt grateful to the many people who offered their heartfelt assistance."



What’s the Matter with Empathy?
By Sara H. Konrath | January 24, 2017
"At a time when “empathy” is more controversial than ever, a researcher explains what it is, what it isn’t, and when it fosters kindness and compassion.

Many of us see this as a good thing, because we see empathy as morally good. If asked, we would say that we want empathic spouses, children, friends, teachers, doctors, and bosses. And that we want to be empathic people ourselves. That is precisely why a recent book by Paul Bloom, with the provocative title Against Empathy, would catch our attention."





2013-06-05 - Throwing Out the Baby With the Bath Water - Revisiting the case against empathy
by Sara Konrath

Paul Bloom recently wrote an interesting essay in the New Yorker (5/20/2013) called “The Baby in the Well,” in which he suggested that desires for a more empathic society are misguided, and that in fact, empathy is morally problematic. He writes:“Empathy is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We’re often at our best when we’re smart enough not to rely on it.”
Bloom sets up an extreme argument in his essay, essentially asking, “what does empathy without reason or logic look like?” To me this is an unfair question, because it assumes that empathy and reason always operate in opposition to each other, with the implicit idea that being empathic is not very intelligent.


2013-06-06 - Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy - Sara Konrath & Edwin Rutsch 

Sara Konrath is the Principal Investigator of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research
Paul Bloom is a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University.



2013-09-23 - Empathy on the Decline: Is Declining Empathy Technology's Fault? By Sara Konrath - NY Times
" Cyberbullying and narcissism can be side effects of social media, but it and other new technologies can also expand compassion. 
We are at the dawn of an era of powerful new tools, which, like many tools, can be used to build or to destroy. Cyberbullying and narcissism can be side effects of social media, but social media and other new technologies can also help us to expand our compassion.


In fact this will be the main focus of the Compassion and Technology Conference at Stanford University this December. The prosocial potential of new media is underexplored compared to its darker aspects. But it’s worth understanding whether the same technologies that are blamed for declining empathy can also be part of the solution." 


Middle-Aged Women Have the most Empathy


Dr. Sara Konrath, University of Michigan – Age and Empathy - Podcast
Most of us have heard of the saying, “Some things get better with age.” Fancy cheeses, wines, and whiskeys all develop more complex and interesting flavors if allowed to age for a few years. Yet, when you think about this just a little more carefully, it’s clear that flavors don’t just get better and better forever. At a critical turning point, even the best cheeses, wines, and whiskeys start to become less inviting. It turns out that empathy follows this same pattern as we age. Empathy is the tendency to feel what others are feeling, and to see the world from their vantage point.A transcript of this podcast can be found here.

Study: Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking: Linear and Quadratic Effects of Age Across the Adult Life Span
  Ed O’Brien, Sara H. Konrath, Daniel Grühn and Anna Linda Hagen
. We investigated linear and quadratic effects of age on self-reported empathy in three large cross-sectional samples of American adults aged 18–90 years.
Results. For both measures and in all three samples, we found evidence for an inverse-U-shaped pattern across age: Middle-aged adults reported higher empathy than both young adults and older adults. We also found a consistent gender difference: Women reported more empathy than men. We did not find systematic differences by ethnicity. However, neither gender nor ethnicity interacted with age effects"

Can you feel my pain? Middle-aged women sure can (
"Looking for someone to feel your pain? Talk to a woman in her 50s. According to a new study of more than 75,000 adults, women in that age group are more empathic than men of the same age and than younger or older people.
..  Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured," said Sara Konrath, assistant research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and co-author of an article on age and empathy forthcoming in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences."

Empathy: Middle-Aged Women The Most Empathetic Of Them All (
"The study's authors Sara Konrath, Ed O'Brien, and Linda Hagen at the University of Michigan and Daniel Grühn at North Carolina State University, concluded that "Americans born in the 1950s and '60s -- the middle-aged people in our samples -- were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various antiwar countercultures. It may be that today's middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of other groups.""

Study shows middle-aged women most empathetic (
"Daniel Gruhn, an assistant professor of psychology at N.C. State, and his colleagues at the University of Michigan recently published an article in The Journal of Gerontology attesting that middle-aged women are more empathetic compared to men of their own age or other individuals younger or older than them."

To determine this, Gruhn and his fellow researchers examined self-reported empathy on various surveys from more than 75,000 people around the United States born between the 1920s and 1990s. The surveys were all voluntary, so no monetary compensation was exchanged for the participants’ time, and most of the questionnaires were conducted online."

No one more empathic than a woman in 50s (
"Sara Konrath, Ed O'Brien and Linda Hagen all of the University of Michigan, Daniel Gruhn at North Carolina State University analyzed data on 75,000 U.S. adults from three separate large samples of American adults, two from the nationally" representative General Social Survey.




College Students Study

2008 - Further evidence of an increase in narcissism among college students (PDF)
Journal of Personality, Twenge, J. M., Konrath, S. H., Campbell, W. K., Foster, J. D., & Bushman, B. J.



 2010-06-08 - Generation Me: Study Finds College Students Lack Empathy

"Are today's college students narcissists? Watch the video to find out! A study presented at the recent meeting of the Association for Psychological Science found that, compared with individuals their age 20 or 30 years ago, today's college students are lacking in empathy. Researchers look at exposure to video games and social media as a possible cause for the rise in narcissism and students' ability to 'tune out' the emotions of others..."


2010-06-20 - The End of Empathy?
"Recently Fox News covered our study on declining empathy in American college students with this alarming title:
The End of Empathy" is this true? Are we now living in a society entirely devoid of the basic glue of human connection and interaction"

2010-10-13 -  Hard Times for Empathy by Ethan Watters
"Sara Konrath’s research has shown that today’s college-aged kids are finding it tougher to care for others – but why?
Sara Konrath, a social psychologist and empathy researcher at the University of Michigan, grew up in a bustling working-class family of eight in which there often wasn’t enough attention or other resources to go around. Konrath remembers she was about 8 years old when an older woman from the community -- a kind of volunteer grandmother -- began to show up and pitch in with childcare. The woman, Ruth, wasn’t a family relative and wasn’t paid for her help. “She’d do things like take a bunch of the kids to the playground or to get ice cream so that my mother could have an easier Sunday afternoon,” Konrath recalls. “She was just one of those rare people who have an incredible capacity to care for others, including near strangers -- like my family.”

2011-08-01  - 'Why Should We Care?'
"What to Do About Declining Student Empathy
"If empathy is truly on the decline among college students, then professors who care may be seen as both potential suckers, ripe for manipulation, or as potential sources of emotional connection-sometimes by the very same student. Students should be warned: Empathy doesn't make a person an easy target. When used with skill, empathy can guide us to balance the needs of ourselves, our students, and our larger social contexts with judicious care."

 2011-07-27 - 36 Hours in Empathyville
"Imagine a room full of scholars, thinkers, teachers, administrators, social innovators, writers, and activists who have devoted their lives to understanding and practicing empathy. These people, many of whom wear more than one of these hats, are all gathered together for an intensive 36 hour workshop called "Empathy in Action.""