Middle-aged women are most empathetic

Middle-aged people are the most empathetic of all age groups - and women in this bracket are the most likely to feel the pain of others. This is according to new research to be published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences, which showed middle-aged females feel the most empathy where other people are concerned.

Investigators from the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University looked at data on more than 75,000 adults as part of the study and discovered these women are more likely to react emotionally to the things others are going through.

In addition, it was shown that middle-aged females also try to understand matters from other people's perspectives to a greater degree than other groups.

The authors noted it could be the case that "today's middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasised the feelings and perspectives of other groups".

Chartered Psychologist Dr Abigael San comments:

"This research may help to explain the predominance of women in the helping professions. It also highlights the important distinction between cognitive and emotional empathy. The recognition and acceptance of emotions and psychological processes in recent decades, and how these factors influence functioning, seems reasonable in helping to explain higher empathy levels in those of middle age.

"Though modern times have seen some departure from traditional gender roles in terms of home-making and raising families, there still exists some division of roles that reflects women as being more involved in the raising of children, which would give more opportunity and perhaps necessity for women to connect with the emotional worlds of others.

"This may play a significant contribution in middle-aged women making greater efforts to view the world from the positions of others, and having higher levels of emotional empathy. Increased exposure to the emotional worlds of others will of course allow the sharpening of skills in connecting with the minds and feelings of others. This is valuable research worthy of further investigation."