Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior

Leonardo Christov-Moore, Elizabeth A Simpson, Gino Coudé, Kristina Grigaityte, Marco Iacoboni, Pier Francesco Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

165 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Evidence suggests that there are differences in the capacity for empathy between males and females. However, how deep do these differences go? Stereotypically, females are portrayed as more nurturing and empathetic, while males are portrayed as less emotional and more cognitive. Some authors suggest that observed gender differences might be largely due to cultural expectations about gender roles. However, empathy has both evolutionary and developmental precursors, and can be studied using implicit measures, aspects that can help elucidate the respective roles of culture and biology. This article reviews evidence from ethology, social psychology, economics, and neuroscience to show that there are fundamental differences in implicit measures of empathy, with parallels in development and evolution. Studies in nonhuman animals and younger human populations (infants/children) offer converging evidence that sex differences in empathy have phylogenetic and ontogenetic roots in biology and are not merely cultural byproducts driven by socialization. We review how these differences may have arisen in response to males' and females' different roles throughout evolution. Examinations of the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy reveal important quantitative gender differences in the basic networks involved in affective and cognitive forms of empathy, as well as a qualitative divergence between the sexes in how emotional information is integrated to support decision making processes. Finally, the study of gender differences in empathy can be improved by designing studies with greater statistical power and considering variables implicit in gender (e.g., sexual preference, prenatal hormone exposure). These improvements may also help uncover the nature of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders in which one sex is more vulnerable to compromised social competence associated with impaired empathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-627
Number of pages24
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume46
Issue numberP4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Brain
Ethology
Social Psychology
Socialization
Neurosciences
Sex Characteristics
Psychiatry
Decision Making
Economics
Hormones
Population

Keywords

  • Contagion
  • Development
  • Emotion
  • Evolution
  • Gender
  • Helping
  • Mimicry
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Ontogeny
  • Prosocial
  • Sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology

Cite this

Christov-Moore, L., Simpson, E. A., Coudé, G., Grigaityte, K., Iacoboni, M., & Ferrari, P. F. (2014). Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 46(P4), 604-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001

Empathy : Gender effects in brain and behavior. / Christov-Moore, Leonardo; Simpson, Elizabeth A; Coudé, Gino; Grigaityte, Kristina; Iacoboni, Marco; Ferrari, Pier Francesco.

In: Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 46, No. P4, 01.10.2014, p. 604-627.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Christov-Moore, L, Simpson, EA, Coudé, G, Grigaityte, K, Iacoboni, M & Ferrari, PF 2014, 'Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior', Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 46, no. P4, pp. 604-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001
Christov-Moore L, Simpson EA, Coudé G, Grigaityte K, Iacoboni M, Ferrari PF. Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2014 Oct 1;46(P4):604-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001
Christov-Moore, Leonardo ; Simpson, Elizabeth A ; Coudé, Gino ; Grigaityte, Kristina ; Iacoboni, Marco ; Ferrari, Pier Francesco. / Empathy : Gender effects in brain and behavior. In: Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2014 ; Vol. 46, No. P4. pp. 604-627.
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