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Title: The role of culture in empathy : the consequences and explanations of cultural differences in empathy at the affective and cognitive levels
Author: Atkins, David
ISNI:       0000 0004 5354 5223
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2014
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Our empathic abilities are central in social interaction and accordingly, our ability to feel and infer others’ emotions is considered crucial for healthy functioning in interpersonal relationships (Blair, 2005; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). One possible moderator of empathy is cultural background and although there is a wealth of theoretical knowledge to link culture and empathy, there is however, very limited empirical research directly examining the association between the two constructs. In five studies using culture as the principle unit of analysis, the research contained within this thesis has investigated the extent to which culture influences empathy using a variety of methods. Chapter Two reports results from an experimental study which show cultural differences in negative affect in response to physical pain; British reported greater negative affect compared to East Asians. Chapter Three reports results from an experimental study that replicate findings in the preceding chapter to a different type of situation, one that depicts social pain. In addition, results demonstrate greater empathic concern but lower empathic accuracy in British compared to East Asians. Chapter Four reports results from an experimental study that follow a similar pattern to preceding chapters; British report greater empathic concern, but lower empathic accuracy compared to Chinese individuals. In addition, the analyses demonstrate that neither an in-group advantage nor comprehension of video targets can explain cultural differences in affective and cognitive empathy. Emotional expressivity predicts British but not Chinese empathic concern. Chapter Five reports a study that demonstrates that empathic concern explains cultural differences in donating, a measure of prosocial behaviour. Chapter Six reports a study that demonstrates that Americans would side and feel more affective empathy for one friend over the other when the two friends are engaged in an intense disagreement compared to Japanese. These findings are interpreted from a dialectical thinking and interpersonal harmony theoretical framework. The association between dispositional empathy and affective and cognitive empathic outcomes was assessed in all studies to understand the utility of dispositional empathy cross-culturally. Findings regarding dispositional empathy’s utility are mixed but suggest that dispositional empathy is more useful to predict empathy in a Western cultural context, but not as useful in an Eastern cultural context. Chapter Seven considers the implications of the findings reported in the set of studies and explores future directions.
Supervisor: Uskul, Ayse Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology