Gender Differences and Motivation in Empathic Accuracy: When It Pays to Understand

Kristi J. K. Klein and Sara D. Hodges

University of Oregon


Three studies of college student participants investigated the conditions under which women perform better than men on an empathic accuracy task (inferring the thoughts and feelings of a target person). The first study demonstrated that although women performed better when the target of empathy was female, menís performance did not improve when the target of empathy was male. The second study demonstrated that womenís advantage only held when women were given a task assessing their feelings of sympathy toward the target prior to performing the empathic accuracy task. The final study demonstrated that payments in exchange for accuracy improved the performance of both men and women, and wiped out any difference between menís and womenís performances. Together, the results suggest that gender differences in empathic accuracy performance are the result of motivational differences, and are not due to simple differences of ability or similarity with the target.