New Publication: Not as Good as You Think? Trait Positive Emotion is Associated with Increased Self-Reported Empathy but Decreased Empathic Performance

Are happy people more empathetic? Or are they unable to emotionally connect with those around them? A new study — done by Prof. Jamil Zaki and PhD student Desmond Ong in collaboration with Hillary Devlin and June Gruber of the Positive Emotion and Psychopathology Lab — investigates how positive emotion is associated with our ability to empathize with others. The study finds that people high in trait positive emotions are “not as good as they think” when it comes to empathy. Specifically, trait positive emotion was associated with increased self-reported subjective empathy (that is, happy people tend to report that they are more empathetic), but with decreased objective measures of empathy when the target’s emotion was incongruent with their own feelings. That is, happy people performed worse on an objective empathic accuracy task when the target that they were empathizing with was experiencing negative emotions. However, people high in trait positive emotions were much more sensitive to positive changes in the target’s emotions. Together, these findings suggest that high trait positive emotion engenders a subjective-objective empathy gap, and that emotion-congruence plays an important role in empathic accuracy. For a full list of our lab's publications, click here.