Women are more empathetic than men, according to this test

Women are more empathetic than men, according to this test


  • This “eye test” was first developed in 1997 by Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen and his team at Cambridge, and has become a well-established assessment of cognitive empathy.
  • It is listed as one of two tests recommended for measuring psychological differences between individuals by the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States.

Women more empathetic than men? In any case, they obtain higher scores on a test widely used by researchers, called “Reading the mind in the eyes” (“Read the mind in the eye” in the original version) which measures the cognitive abilities of empathy. This result was observed at all ages and in most countries, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Women are better at judging how a person feels from their eyes

In social relations, knowing how to put oneself in the place of others and to imagine the thoughts and feelings of another person is a primordial ability. This is what researchers call “theory of mind” or “cognitive empathy”. One of the most widely used tests to study cognitive empathy is the one taken by study participants. It involves asking the volunteer to choose the word that best describes what a person seems to be thinking or feeling, simply by looking at pictures showing the eye area on a face.

In recent years, numerous studies have shown that women on average score higher than men on these tests, but the samples were relatively small, with little geographic, cultural and/or age diversity. To remedy this, a team of multidisciplinary researchers led by the University of Cambridge therefore wanted to analyze the data of 305,726 participants from 57 countries.

Empathy: the difference is observed regardless of age, country or language

The results showed that women on average scored significantly higher than men (in 36 countries), or similar to men (in 21 countries), on the test. Importantly, there were no countries where men scored significantly higher on average than women. This gender difference was observed throughout life, from 16 to 70 years.

Dr. David M. Greenberg, lead author of the study, said in a statement: “Our results provide some of the first evidence that the well-known phenomenon – that women are on average more empathetic than men – is present in a wide range of countries around the world.”

Although this study could not discern the cause of this gender difference, the authors speculate based on previous research that it may be the result of biological and social factors. A question that researchers want to explore further in their future research.

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