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Measuring empathy

Empathising with people from other cultures is important for both everyday and professional life. Ethno-cultural empathy has been measured in students on various health related courses and training programmes for the first time ever.

“Those who work in health care frequently encounter patients from different ethnic backgrounds, but we do not know if they are sufficiently emphatic”, says Chato Resoal, who has recently finished a PhD in Psychology at Linköping University.

Methods to measure basic empathy are already in place in Sweden, but not to measure empathy for people from other cultures, so-called ethno-cultural empathy. Chato Resoal translated and adapted a questionnaire used in the U.S. to Swedish conditions. It measures ethno-cultural empathy and contains questions about how the respondent would feel, think or react to a specific person or situation.

When the survey was used to compare basic empathy and ethno-cultural empathy, it appeared that they overlap and that older people, women and people who grew up in small towns were more empathetic than others. Contrary to what many believe the ethno-cultural empathy was not influenced by how much contact a person has had with people of other ethnic backgrounds during their school years.

In another study both the basic empathy and ethno-cultural empathy were measured in 365 students training to be doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers. They were measured both at the beginning and the end of their training.

The results showed that psychology and sociology students were more empathic, but that also the future doctors and nurses possessed good empathic abilities. However, this ability did not change significantly during their training.

“Even tough empathy is not part of any course and also not examined we had expected to see an improvement in empathic ability during the course of the training. Yet it seems it was not affected and remained unchanged”, says Chato Rasoal.

For further informaiton about these studies please contact Chato Rasoal, on + 46 13 28 68 03 or chato.rasoal @ liu.se

Therese Winder 2010-01-14

Page manager: therese.winder@liu.se
Last updated: 2010-01-14