The empathic personality profile: Using personality characteristics to reveal genetic, environmental, and developmental patterns of adolescents' empathy

Lior Abramson*, Eran Eldar, Noam Markovitch, Ariel Knafo-Noam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: How do genetic and environmental processes affect empathy during early adolescence? This study illuminated this question by examining the aetiology of empathy with the aetiology of other personality characteristics. Method: Israeli twin adolescents rated their empathy and personality at ages 11 (N = 1176) and 13 (N = 821) (733 families, 51.4% females). Parents rated adolescents' emotional empathy. Adolescents performed an emotion recognition task, indicating cognitive empathy. Results: Using a cross-validated statistical learning algorithm, this study found emotional and cognitive “empathic personality profiles,” which describe and predict self-reported empathy from nuanced Big-Five personality characteristics, or “nuances” (i.e., individual items). These profiles predicted empathy moderately (R2 = 0.17–0.24) and were stable and robust, within each age and between ages. They also predicted empathy in a new sample of older nontwin adolescents (N = 96) and were validated against non-self-report empathy measures. Both emotional and cognitive empathy were predicted by nuances representing positive attitudes toward others, trust, forgiveness, and openness to experiences. Emotional empathy was also predicted by nuances representing anxiousness and negative reactivity. Twin analyses revealed overlapping genetic and environmental influences on empathy and the empathic personality profiles and overlapping environmental influences on empathy–personality change. Conclusions: This study demonstrates how addressing the complexity of individuals' personalities can inform adolescents' empathy development.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)753-772
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Personality
Volume91
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Personality published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

Keywords

  • Big-Five
  • adolescence
  • empathy
  • heritability
  • personality
  • twin studies

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