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."
"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 seeempathyas
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 arecent
Paul Bloom, with the provocative titleAgainst
would catch our attention.
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.
- 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
Have the most
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 foundhere.
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
investigated linear and quadratic effects of age on self-reported
empathy in three large cross-sectional samples of American adults aged
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
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 (huffingtonpost.com)
"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 (technicianonline.com)
"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
No one more empathic than a woman in 50s (upi.com)
"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.
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..."
- The End of Empathy? "Recently Fox News covered our study on
declining empathy in American college students with this alarming title:
End of Empathy"is
this true? Are we now living in a society entirely devoid of the basic
glue of human connection and interaction"
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.""