Study: Happy people aren’t actually more empathetic, probably less

Stick that in your well-intentioned pep talk.

A contrasting empathy attenuation hypothesis suggests positive emotion would be associated with lower empathy, because positive emotion promotes self-focused or antisocial behaviors…. This suggests that trait positive affect may be associated with decreased objective empathy in the context of mood incongruent (i.e., negative) emotional stimuli, but may increase some aspects of empathic performance in the context of mood congruent (i.e., positive) stimuli. Taken together, these findings suggest that trait positive emotion engenders a compelling subjective-objective gap regarding its association with empathy, in being related to a heightened perception of empathic tendencies, despite being linked to mixed abilities in regards to empathic performance.

In other words, they’re less responsive [read:dumb] to anything realistic [neutral] or less than their own rose lens of sunshine and lollipops. You can’t get through, it’s like a positivity shield highly irritating to everyone else.

The only area where happier people outperformed less upbeat people was in reading significantly positive shifts in emotions. In other words, they were better at identifying emotions similar to their own.

Another way to describe the study findings is that, despite their confidence, upbeat connectors are somewhat tone deaf to negative emotions, but more attuned to positives ones.

…Our work suggests that our self-reported beliefs about how empathic we are may not always accurately reflect actual empathic abilities. In the case of this study, trait positive emotionality [how happy we feel] appears to be one factor that can lead to a striking divergence between beliefs and abilities.


1. Be civil. 2. Be logical or fair. 3. Do not bore me.

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