The recent Paris terrorist attack highlights the discrepancy in the levels of empathy that Western people feel toward other Western people, compared to the empathy they feel toward Middle-Eastern people for example, who suffer such attacks regularly.

The question is:

  • How can a person or group of people's empathy be measured?
  • What factors influence this level of empathy?

Have any studies been done on this subject?

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    $\begingroup$ On the particular example of discrepancy you quote, I have obviously noticed it too and I am convinced that it is fundamentally generated by the discrepancy of mediatic exposure to the tragedies you quote, and the media's focus is exactly where they intend to create empathy for reasons that I think we can reasonably suspect to be eonomic-political. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2015 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ Check Kin selection theory. It will be helpful $\endgroup$
    – user10081
    Dec 16, 2015 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


Empathy can be measured in many different ways. As this source outlines:

Psychologists distinguish between measurements of situational empathy—that is, empathic reactions in a specific situation—and measurements of dispositional empathy, where empathy is understood as a person's stable character trait. Situational empathy is measured either by asking subjects about their experiences immediately after they were exposed to a particular situation, by studying the “facial, gestural, and vocal indices of empathy-related responding” (Zhou, Valiente, and Eisenberg 2003, 275), or by various physiological measures such as the measurement of heart rate or skin conductance.

Empathy is influenced by a very wide range of factors. Some are innate (e.g., one's capacity for empathy), some are due to upbringing and some are related to the characteristics of the individual or group involved (e.g, their familiarity, or appearance). I couldn't find a comprehensive list of these different factors (probably as there are too many), but [1,2,3,4] should give you a sense of the range of factors.

Please let me know if you require any further clarification such as a more specific question.


1 McDonald, Nicole M., and Daniel S. Messinger. "The development of empathy: How, when, and why." Moral Behavior and Free Will: A Neurobiological and Philosophical Aprroach (2011): 341-368.

[2] JACKSON, P. L., MELTZOFF, A. N. & DECETY, J. 2005. How do we perceive the pain of others? A window into the neural processes involved in empathy. NeuroImage, 24, 771-779.

[3] GALLESE, V. 2003. The roots of empathy: The shared manifold hypothesis and the neural basis of intersubjectivity. Psychopathology, 36, 171-180.

[4] CHAPMAN, E., BARON-COHEN, S., AUYEUNG, B., KNICKMEYER, R., TAYLOR, K. & HACKETT, G. 2006. Fetal testosterone and empathy: Evidence from the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test. Social Neuroscience, 1, 135-148.


Empathy cant be measured, however it can be judged by a person's actions in routine life. If a person is generally sensitive to other's feelings irrespective of age, gender, specie, he can be called to have Empathy generally. Another person might empathize with his children, but not with others say that of his neighbors, so he may be judged as a less empathetic person. It is greatly influenced by relationship. A person is greatly protective about own children, but he may infact wish harm for those of his enemies. The reason for loss of Empathy in this case is the animosity he shares with that other person. No offence to anyone for the following views.
It is also influenced by cultures and religions. Islam as a culture is less empathetic towards all and so they have more instance of violence in their community. It is just an observation.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer seems to be primarily opinion based, which is frowned upon on CogSci.SE. Adding references to studies to support your personal impressions would greatly improve the quality of your answer. $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Apr 15, 2016 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ More than opinion, it's an observation. Simple inability to quote research does not make the answer any less useful because it is based on what is easily and obviously evident. $\endgroup$
    – Raj
    Apr 15, 2016 at 11:50

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