“Principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others…”: The heritability of empathic concern for others1


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    . We would like to thank David Thissen, Peter Herman, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This research was supported by NHLBI grant # HL-03429 awarded to Ray H. Rosenman and by an Established Investigatorship award to Karen A. Matthews from the American Heart Association with funds contributed in part by the American Heart Association Pennsylvania Affiliate. Reprint requests should be sent to Karen A. Matthews, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261 or to C. Daniel Batson, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045.


The present research was conducted to explore genetic influences on empathic concern for others. First, an index of empathic concern was created by combining relevant items from Gough's Adjective Check List (ACL). This index was validated by correlating scores of 88 undergraduates on the index with their scores on a self-report measure of empathy, which has been related to prosocial behavior. Correlations were sufficiently high to accept the validity of the index. Next, previously collected ACL responses of 114 monozygotic (MZ) and 116 dizygotic (DZ) twins were reanalyzed in order to create an empathic concern score for each twin. The twins were middle-aged males initially raised together but living apart at the time they completed the ACL. Comparison of intraclass correlations for MZ and DZ twins revealed, as predicted by the genetic hypothesis, significant (p < .005) heritability in empathic concern scores. This finding suggests that there may, indeed, be a genetic influence on individual differences in empathic concern for others. Some limitations of the present data are also considered.

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him.