Empathy across the adult lifespan: Longitudinal and experience-sampling findings

Emotion. 2008 Dec;8(6):753-65. doi: 10.1037/a0014123.


This study examined change in self-reported empathy in a four-wave longitudinal study spanning 12 years (1992-2004) and the association between empathy and other measures, including daily reports of relationship experiences. Participants initially ranged in age from 10 years to 87 years. Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of age with empathy revealed divergent patterns. Whereas cross-sectional analyses suggested that older adults scored lower in empathy than younger adults, longitudinal analyses showed no age-related decline in empathy. This combined pattern suggests that the cross-sectional age-differences reflect a cohort rather than an age effect, with older cohorts reporting lower levels of empathy than younger ones. Independent of age, empathy was associated with a positive well-being (e.g., life satisfaction) and interaction profile (e.g., positive relations with others). In addition, a subsample of participants (n = 114) conducted experience-sampling about social interactions for a week. People with high self-reported empathy perceived their interactions as more meaningful, felt more positive in these interactions, and thought that their interaction partner felt also more positive. Thus, self-reported empathy was meaningfully associated with adults' actual social interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Young Adult