Happy People Are Bad at Empathy

If you’re looking to be cheered up, who do you hang out with—someone happy or someone else? Happy people tend to think that they’re best for the job—but they’re wrong about that.

A study published in PLOS One has found that happy people think of themselves as more empathetic, but they’re far more confident than they should be. Researchers recruited 121 study participants and tested their level of positive affectivity (i.e., how enthusiastic, alert, happy, and energetic they are). The participants also told researchers how strong they felt they were at empathising, with happier people believing they were very good at empathising.

Participants then had to view four videos, each of someone giving a short talk about an autobiographical event. Two described positive events, two described negative events. Participants had to rate, second by second, the level of negative or positive emotion felt by the speaker.

Happier people believed that they’d be more accurate than other people. However, they were generally no better than anyone else at the task. In fact, they found it harder to judge the emotional tone of one of the negative monologues, which had a speaker describing the death of a parent.

So, if you happen to be a happy guy, maybe remember that you’re probably not as good as you think you are at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you’re not a happy guy, enjoy the fact that you’re actually pretty good figuring out empathy.



This is a test