People with extremely sunny attitudes find it difficult to empathize with people who are recounting a negative experience, according to a study recently published at PLOS ONE. Ironically, positive people also reported being better at empathizing than did people who labelled themselves as slightly less than bubbly. 

For the study, participants were shown videos of people telling life stories: two happy and two sad. The viewers were asked to rate, second-by-second, the level of positive or negative emotion they thought the speaker was feeling. Alex Fradera, at the British Psychological Society's Research Digest, describes the result:

"Participants with a more upbeat personality believed their accuracy on this task to be higher than others. However, the speakers had conducted an identical rating process on their own videos, and it turns out the happier participants were no closer to the true feelings than the more downbeat participants. In fact, happy participants found it harder to judge the emotional tone of a highly negative monologue, in which a participant described the death of a parent."

Dev Patnaik, author and founder of Jump Associates, argues that empathy is not just a personal quality that we all (are blessed to) have. Empathy, he argues, is an essential business skill that corporations must possess to help their employees innovate and to create a loyal customer base:


Read more at New York Magazine

Photo © Lise Gagne