American psychological states have changed in recent decades, leading to less focus on others and more on the individual, but researchers have found that the United States is still an empathetic nation.
In a study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, researchers from Michigan State University, University of Chicago and Indiana University ranked the U.S. as the seventh most empathetic country in the world, coming in ahead of Taiwan, Costa Rica and Kuwait.
According to the results of the study, Ecuador is at the top of the list as the most empathetic country, while Saudi Arabia, Peru, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and Korea rounded out the top six.
Over 104,000 people from across the globe participated in the study by filling out online surveys about empathy, which measured how much compassion people have and their likelihood for putting themselves in the shoes of others. Underrepresented countries, most of which are from Africa, were excluded, which left the researchers with 63 countries to rank.
William Chopik and colleagues Ed O'Brien and Sara Konrath were surprised when their results yielded three Middle Eastern countries in the top 10, citing the long histories of war and aggression Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have with other nations in their region. They said the results possibly turned out this way because the study didn't distinguish between empathy felt by the respondents toward people from their own country versus empathy directed at people from other countries.
Out of the 63 countries ranked based on empathy, Lithuania has the distinction of being the least empathetic nation. In fact, Eastern Europe is home to seven of the top 10 least empathetic countries included in the study.
Factors Affecting Empathy
In a study O'Brien and Konrath released in 2011 that suggested college students in America have grown less empathetic over a 20-year period, they identified possible factors that could affect empathy levels in people. These factors include: increasing expectations of success, changing family and parenting practices, increased incidents of bullying and violence and the prevalence of social media.
The current study only offers a "snapshot" of the state of empathy around the world at the moment, but it is the first to assess empathy at the country level. The researchers pointed out, however, that cultures are always changing, which is particularly true for the U.S.
"People may portray the United States as this empathetic and generous giant, but that might be changing," said Chopik.
Meanwhile, another study released in May looked at empathy from a non-cultural point of view. According to its findings, how empathetic a person is may be influenced by whether or not they were taking painkillers, and those who took acetaminophen were less likely to think another person was in pain.
Photo: Stewart Black | Flickr