Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking: Linear and Quadratic Effects of Age Across the Adult Life Span

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Abstract

Objective.

We investigated linear and quadratic effects of age on self-reported empathy in three large cross-sectional samples of American adults aged 18–90 years.

Method.

Participants completed subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1983), allowing us to independently assess an emotional component of empathy (“empathic concern”) and a cognitive component of empathy (“perspective taking”) across the adult life span.

Results.

For 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.

Discussion.

We discuss the inverse-U-shaped age pattern, in terms of aging versus cohort influences, and how it complements and extends the existing literature on empathy and age.

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