Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. A first-of-its-kind study that ranks nations by empathy puts the
United States at No. 7, behind countries ranging from Peru to Korea to
While a top 10 finish isn't bad, Michigan State University's William
Chopik, lead author of the study, notes that the psychological states
of Americans have been changing in recent decades - leading to a larger
focus on the individual and less on others.
‘A first-of-its-kind study that ranks nations by empathy puts America at No. 7, behind countries ranging from Peru to Korea to Saudi Arabia.’
"These changes might ultimately cause us to leave our close
relationships behind," said Chopik, assistant professor of psychology.
"People are struggling more than ever to form meaningful close
relationships. So, sure, the United States is seventh on the list, but
we could see that position rise or fall depending on how our society
changes in the next 20-50 years."
The researchers analyzed the data from an online survey on empathy
completed by more than 104,000 people from around the world. The survey
measured people's compassion for others and their tendency to imagine
others' point of view. Countries with small sample sizes were excluded
(including most nations in Africa). All told, 63 countries were ranked
in the study.
Ecuador was the most empathetic country, followed in order by Saudi
Arabia, Peru, Denmark, United Arab Emirates, Korea, the United States,
Taiwan, Costa Rica and Kuwait.
Chopik said he was surprised that three countries from the Middle
East - Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait - ranked so highly in empathy
considering the long history of aggression and wars with other countries
in the region. That could be because the study did not distinguish
between feeling empathy toward people in other countries vs. people in
one's own country.
The least empathetic country was Lithuania. In fact, seven of the 10 least empathetic countries were in Eastern Europe.
The study, published online today in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
, was co-authored by Ed O'Brien of the University of Chicago and Sara Konrath of Indiana University.
Konrath and O'Brien in 2011 published research suggesting that
American college students had become less empathetic over a 20-year
span. Potential factors included the explosion of social media;
increases in violence and bullying; changing parenting and family
practices; and increasing expectations of success.
The latest study is the first to look at empathy on a
country-by-country level. And while it "only grabbed a snapshot of what
empathy looks like at this very moment," Chopik noted that cultures are
"This is particularly true of the United States, which has
experienced really large changes in things like parenting practices and
values," Chopik said. "People may portray the United States as this
empathetic and generous giant, but that might be changing."