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Journal Article

Investigating adult age differences in real-life empathy, prosociality, and well-being using experience sampling


Kanske,  Philipp
Chair for Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, TU Dresden, Germany;
Research Group Social Stress and Family Health, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Pollerhoff, L., Stietz, J., Depow, G. J., Inzlicht, M., Kanske, P., Li, S.-C., et al. (2022). Investigating adult age differences in real-life empathy, prosociality, and well-being using experience sampling. Scientific Reports, 12(1): 3450. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-06620-x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-4A17-A
While the importance of social affect and cognition is indisputable throughout the adult lifespan, findings of how empathy and prosociality develop and interact across adulthood are mixed and real-life data are scarce. Research using ecological momentary assessment recently demonstrated that adults commonly experience empathy in daily life. Furthermore, experiencing empathy was linked to higher prosocial behavior and subjective well-being. However, to date, it is not clear whether there are adult age differences in daily empathy and daily prosociality and whether age moderates the relationship between empathy and prosociality across adulthood. Here we analyzed experience-sampling data collected from participants across the adult lifespan to study age effects on empathy, prosocial behavior, and well-being under real-life circumstances. Linear and quadratic age effects were found for the experience of empathy, with increased empathy across the three younger age groups (18 to 45 years) and a slight decrease in the oldest group (55 years and older). Neither prosocial behavior nor well-being showed significant age-related differences. We discuss these findings with respect to (partially discrepant) results derived from lab-based and traditional survey studies. We conclude that studies linking in-lab experiments with real-life experience-sampling may be a promising venue for future lifespan studies.