Are Liberals and Conservatives Equally Motivated to Feel Empathy Toward Others?

Yossi Hasson*, Maya Tamir, Kea S. Brahms, J. Christopher Cohrs, Eran Halperin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Do liberals and conservatives differ in their empathy toward others? This question has been difficult to resolve due to methodological constraints and common use of ideologically biased targets. To more adequately address this question, we examined how much empathy liberals and conservatives want to feel, how much empathy they actually feel, and how willing they are to help others. We used targets that are equivalent in the degree to which liberals and conservatives identify with, by setting either liberals, conservatives, or ideologically neutral members as social targets. To support the generalizability of our findings, we conducted the study in the United States, Israel, and Germany. We found that, on average and across samples, liberals wanted to feel more empathy and experienced more empathy than conservatives did. Liberals were also more willing to help others than conservatives were, in the United States and Germany, but not in Israel. In addition, across samples, both liberals and conservatives wanted to feel less empathy toward outgroup members than toward ingroup members or members of a nonpolitical group.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1449-1459
Number of pages11
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the German-Israeli Foundation under grant I-324-105.1-2012, granted to Eran Halperin, Maya Tamir and J. Christopher Cohrs, and by the European Research Commission grant [335607] to Eran Halperin. The authors would like to thank the Levy Eshkol Institute for Economic, Social and Political Research for its support of Yossi Hasson.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


  • emotion regulation
  • empathy
  • motivation
  • political ideology


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