|dc.description.abstract||Empathy is an essential social communication skill for sharing and understanding others’ emotional states and experiences. It is deemed to be related to both cultural and personal factors. A few researchers have investigated Western–Asian cross-cultural differences in empathy using self-report questionnaires or behavioural tasks, and some of them found that cultural differences in empathy were evident. Nevertheless, the number of these studies is small and the results reported are inconsistent. Furthermore, reasons underlying the cultural differences have hardly been investigated. The current thesis was conducted to address the limitations in the literature (Chapter II), to bridge some theoretical gaps in the research area (Chapter II), and to provide a better understanding of Western–Asian cross-cultural differences in both self-report and behavioural responses of empathy using Australian and Mainland Chinese participants (Chapters V and VI).
Three studies were conducted. In the first study (Chapter IV), the Empathy Quotient (EQ) was validated in a sample of participants (n = 588) from Mainland China. Results confirmed the validity of the EQ for measuring self-report empathy in the Mainland Chinese population. Moreover, with a comparison with previous publications based on Western populations, the mean score of the EQ was found to be lower in the Mainland Chinese participants; the sex differences in the EQ score was found to be smaller in Mainland Chinese participants, relative to Westerners. Furthermore, the best-fit model of the EQ for Mainland Chinese participants was a one-factor model, suggesting that psychometric characteristics of items for measuring emotional empathy and cognitive empathy were undifferentiated, which was different from the dissociable model reported for Western populations. The possible cultural differences in the mean value of the EQ scale and in the effect size of sex differences in the EQ score revealed in the first study implied a culture–sex interaction in self-report empathy.
The second study (Chapter V) was conducted to examine Western–Asian cross-cultural differences in self-report empathy, and the possible culture–sex interaction effects in the empathy scores using Australian Caucasian (n = 192; 101 males) and Mainland Chinese Han participants (n = 211; 59 males). Furthermore, the effects of using self-construal and empathy-related personal distress to explain the cultural differences in empathy found between these two cultural groups were measured. Results showed that there were significant culture–sex interactions in self-report emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, and overall empathy scores. Moreover, further analyses indicated that the cultural differences in self-report empathy only existed between the two cultural female groups (i.e., Australian females had higher scores than those of the Mainland Chinese females), but not the male groups. Moreover, the pattern of sex differences in these empathy scores was different between the Australian participants (i.e., females reported higher scores than males did for self-report emotional, cognitive, and overall empathy) and the Mainland Chinese participants (i.e., males reported higher scores than females did on cognitive empathy, and there was no significant sex difference in the emotional and overall empathy scores). Finally, results of mediating effect analyses confirmed that the cross-cultural difference in empathy between these two female groups could be explained, in part, by that the Australian females held a stronger independent self-construal and as a result, suffered less personal distress during empathy-eliciting situations than the Mainland Chinese females. While results of the second study suggested the culture–sex interaction in self-report empathy, it remained to be determined whether similar interaction effects in behavioural responses of empathy could be confirmed in the third study.
As empathy is an interpersonal activity, it might be influenced not only by the characteristics of the participants (i.e., culture and sex), but by the characteristics of the targets (i.e., culture and emotion), and also by the relationship between the participants and the targets (i.e., in-group and out-group bias). An in-group bias exists when individuals show more empathy for their in-group than out-group targets, while the out-group bias is the opposite. These phenomena could not be investigated using the self-report empathy scales, but could be investigated by using behavioural tasks. In the third study (Chapter VI), self-report empathy and behavioural responses of empathy were compared between Australian Caucasian (n = 61; 29 males) and Mainland Chinese (n = 68; 32 males) participants. In these behavioural tasks, participants were requested to evaluate their empathy-related responses to targets (i.e, either Caucasian or Asian targets) expressing different emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, or anger) with or without an emotional background (e.g., in a marathon or before a plain backdrop). Participants’ accuracies in emotion recognition of emotions were statistically controlled. Results of self-report empathy, once again, confirmed the culture–sex interaction as reported in the previous two studies of this thesis.
Results of the behavioural tasks illustrated a three-way interaction (participant culture, participant sex, and target culture) in behavioural responses of cognitive empathy for anger within an emotional context. A further analysis of the three-way interaction revealed that the cultural difference was only significant between the two female participant groups (i.e., the Australian females reported higher cognitive empathy than did the Mainland Chinese females for Caucasian targets), the sex difference was found to be only significant in the Australian participants (i.e., the Australian females reported higher cognitive empathy than did the Australian males for both Caucasian and Asian targets), and that the in-group bias was only shown by the Australian females (i.e., they reported more cognitive empathy for Caucasian than Asian targets). Therefore, the three-way interaction in behavioural responses of empathy was in line with the two-way interaction found for self-report empathy. Apart from the three-way interaction, several two-way interactions between participant culture and target culture were found in emotion recognition, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, and perspective-taking for sadness or happiness. Taken together, results of the third study suggest that empathy is a complex interpersonal activity, and individuals might modulate their empathy responses according to the characteristics of the targets. Finally, an empirical suggestion is that as non-verbal delivered emotions could be misunderstood by the out-group, openly expressing emotions, feelings, and needs might help to improve cross-cultural communication.
In summary, this thesis reported new insight into Western–Asian cross-cultural differences in empathy from three dimensions: psychometric characteristics, self-report empathy, and behavioural responses, using Australian and Mainland Chinese participants. In addition, the current study also validated the EQ in Mainland China, and this scale is expected to assist future researchers to study empathy and study cultural differences in empathy based on the Mainland Chinese populations. More importantly, the current results suggest that to understand cultural differences in empathy, researchers should account for the impact of culture–sex interaction, for cultural differences in self-construal, for cultural differences in empathy-related personal distress, and for the relationship between the participants and the targets. In all, the current results demonstrate that empathy is a complex social interpersonal activity, and suggest that any conclusion stating one culture has better ability in empathy than others is too simplistic. Finally, the preliminary results of this thesis illustrated that individuals should learn how to control their personal distress and to keep a clear boundary between self and others in order to be able to exhibit more empathy, and meanwhile, people ought to study how to effectively express emotions to the out-groups so as to have a better cross-cultural communication.||