Sunday, February 19, 2023

Are women more empathetic than men? According to EEG estimations of sex/gender differences in empathic ability, it seems they are not

Are women more empathetic than men? Questionnaire and EEG estimations of sex/gender differences in empathic ability. Chenyu Pang, Wenxin Li, Yuqing Zhou, Tianyu Gao, Shihui Han. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, nsad008, Feb 18 2023.

Abstract: The debate regarding whether women are more empathetic than men has broad scientific, social, and clinical implications. However, previous independent questionnaires and brain imaging studies that tested different samples reported inconsistent results regarding sex/gender differences in empathic ability. We conducted three studies to investigate sex/gender differences in empathic ability using large-sample questionnaire and electroencephalography (EEG) measures. We showed that estimation of empathic ability using the interpersonal reactivity index questionnaire showed higher rating scores in women than men in all studies. However, our EEG measures of empathy, indexed by both phase-locked and non-phased locked neural responses to others' painful (vs. neutral) facial expressions, support a null hypothesis of the sex/gender difference in empathic ability. In addition, we showed evidence that priming social expectations of women and men's ability to share and care about others' feelings eliminated the sex/gender difference in questionnaire measures of empathic ability. Our large-sample EEG results challenge the notion of women's superiority in empathy that is built based on subjective questionnaire measures which are sensitive to social desirability. Our findings indicate that whether the notion of women’s superiority in empathic ability reflects a biological/social difference between women and men or a gender-role stereotype remains an open question.

Keywords: Electroencephalography, Empathy, Questionnaire, Sex/Gender, Social expectation