When it comes to empathy, the United States comes in seventh out of 63 countries, according to a new study led by a researcher at Michigan State University.
The most empathetic country was Ecuador, and the least empathetic was Lithuania. In fact, seven of the 10 least empathetic countries were in Eastern Europe.
While a top 10 finish isn’t bad, it’s possible that the U.S. would have placed higher on the list in years past. In fact, the psychological states of Americans have been shifting in recent decades, said lead author Dr. William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology. This has resulted in a sharper focus on the individual and less on others.
“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 study involved an online survey on empathy completed by more than 104,000 people worldwide. Respondents were asked questions about their compassion for others and their tendency to imagine others’ point of view.
Countries whose sample sizes were too small were excluded (including most nations in Africa). A total of 63 countries were ranked in the study.
Ecuador was the most empathetic country, followed in order by Saudi Arabia, Peru, Denmark, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Korea, the United States, Taiwan, Costa Rica and Kuwait.
Chopik noted his surprise that three countries from the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait — ranked so highly in empathy considering their long history of aggression and wars with other countries in the region. That could be because the survey did not distinguish between feeling empathy toward people in other countries vs. people in one’s own country.
The least empathetic country was Lithuania, with seven other countries in Eastern Europe coming in at the bottom.
The researchers had published a previous study in 2011 suggesting that American college students had become less empathetic over the last two decades. Potential factors included the explosion of social media, increases in violence and bullying, changing parenting and family practices, and increasing expectations of success.
The new study is the first to look at empathy on a country-by-country level. And although it “only grabbed a snapshot of what empathy looks like at this very moment,” Chopik noted that cultures are constantly changing.
“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.”
The findings are published online in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.
Source: Michigan State University