Gender differences in empathic accuracy: Differential ability or differential motivation?


  • The authors would like to thank Greg Pool and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous draft of this article.

Requests for reprints should be sent to William Ickes, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX 76019-0528.


Following their qualitative review of the findings from 10 relevant studies, Graham and Ickes (1997) speculated that reliable gender-of-perceiver differences in empathic accuracy (a) were limited to studies in which the empathic inference form made empathic accuracy salient as the dimension of interest, and (b) therefore reflected the differential motivation, rather than the differential ability, of female versus male perceivers. These speculations were tested more rigorously in the present study, which examined a larger set of 15 empathic accuracy studies and applied the techniques of quantitative meta-analysis to test Graham and Ickes’(1997) moderating variable hypothesis. The hypothesis was strongly supported, consistent with a motivational interpretation previously proposed by Berman (1980) and by Eisenberg and Lemon (1983), which argues that reliable gender differences in empathy-related measures are found only in situations in which (a) subjects are aware that they are being evaluated on an empathy-relevant dimension, and/or (b) empathy-relevant gender-role expectations or obligations are made salient.