Empathy is a key mechanism for understanding the other; basically, it’s the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes. Now a new study finds that the level of empathy you are able to feel has a lot to do with your sexual orientation. According to the Haifa University study in Israel, men and women attracted to men are more empathetic than men and women attracted to women.
“People attracted to a particular gender, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, have common social tools, and thus exhibit the same level of empathy,” said Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory, who conducted the study.
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Women are superior empathizers
Behavioral and brain studies show that activities related to empathy are regulated differently in men and women based on preferences that are acquired through social interaction and use different areas of the brain. According to Professor Shamay-Tsoori, past studies have demonstrated that women are superior in tasks involving empathy, such as non-verbal communication and attention to changes in tone of voice and facial expression.
In the current study, recently published in “Brain Research,” the researchers sought to examine the differences in empathetic responses between subjects who are attracted to men compared to those attracted to women. A total of 52 subjects were divided into two groups according to their sexual orientation. While the subjects underwent fMRI scans, they were shown different emotional situations, so that the researchers could examine how the subjects feel when they personally experience the situation or when the situation occurs to someone else.
The study revealed that sexual orientation is related to the level of empathy: based on self-reporting, heterosexual women showed the highest level of empathy, followed by gay men, then lesbian women, and finally heterosexual men.
You’re empathetic according to your sexual preferences
A similar picture arose from analysis of brain activity which was also conducted. During the empathetic task, it was found that, among other things, the area of the TPJ (Temporal Parietal Junction) related to the perception of the other, was more active in subjects attracted to men compared to those attracted to women.
“The results of the research suggest that differences in empathy between people are monitored by a person’s sexual preference. Sexual attraction determines the person with whom we have a close and intimate relationship, so it is reasonable that the gender of the person to whom we are attracted will affect our ability to empathize,” concluded Professor Shamay-Tsoori.
The study was conducted by Professor Shamay-Tsoori along with Dr. Daniel Perry from the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Kobie Walder from the Department of Psychology at the University of Haifa, and Professor Talma Hendler from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.
Photos: Peace Learning Center/ Ziglar