Giving birth to empathy: the effects of similar experience on empathic accuracy, empathic concern, and perceived empathy

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Mar;36(3):398-409. doi: 10.1177/0146167209350326. Epub 2009 Oct 29.


This study examined how having had a similar experience to a target person's experience affected three facets of empathy: empathic concern, empathic accuracy, and perceived empathy. Women who had never been mothers, who were pregnant with their first child, or who had just given birth to their first child (20 in each group) served as perceivers, watching videotapes of new-mother targets (N = 20) and providing measures of emotional and cognitive empathy. When perceivers had experienced the same life events as the targets, they expressed greater empathic concern and reported greater understanding of targets. However, experience had a much smaller effect on empathic accuracy, limited to comparisons between new-mother and never-pregnant perceivers and only for accuracy at guessing stereotypic attitudes, not individual thoughts. Perceived empathy, in contrast, appeared to be influenced by targets' knowledge of whether perceivers had experienced similar events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Life Change Events
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Videotape Recording
  • Young Adult