Impact of aging on empathy

Review of psychological and neural mechanisms

Janelle N Beadle, Christine E. De La Vega

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Empathy in aging is a key capacity because it affects the quality of older adults' relationships and reduced levels are associated with greater loneliness. Many older adults also find themselves in the role of a caregiver to a loved one, and thus empathy is critical for the success of the caregiver-patient relationship. Furthermore, older adults are motivated to make strong emotional connections with others, as highlighted in the socioemotional selectivity theory. Consequently, reductions in empathy could negatively impact their goals. However, there is growing evidence that older adults experience at least some changes in empathy, depending on the domain. Specifically, the state of the research is that older adults have lower cognitive empathy (i.e., the ability to understand others' thoughts and feelings) than younger adults, but similar and in some cases even higher levels of emotional empathy (i.e., the ability to feel emotions that are similar to others' or feel compassion for them). A small number of studies have examined the neural mechanisms for age-related differences in empathy and have found reduced activity in a key brain area associated with cognitive empathy. However, more research is needed to further characterize how brain changes impact empathy with age, especially in the emotional domain of empathy. In this review, we discuss the current state of the research on age-related differences in the psychological and neural bases of empathy, with a specific comparison of the cognitive versus emotional components. Finally, we highlight new directions for research in this area and examine the implications of age-related differences in empathy for older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number331
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume10
Issue numberJUN
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Fingerprint

Psychology
Aptitude
Research
Caregivers
Emotions
Loneliness
Brain
Young Adult

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Empathy
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this

Impact of aging on empathy : Review of psychological and neural mechanisms. / Beadle, Janelle N; De La Vega, Christine E.

In: Frontiers in Psychiatry, Vol. 10, No. JUN, 331, 01.01.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

@article{65cf1efe91664ac9a9032da6f43dbf68,
title = "Impact of aging on empathy: Review of psychological and neural mechanisms",
abstract = "Empathy in aging is a key capacity because it affects the quality of older adults' relationships and reduced levels are associated with greater loneliness. Many older adults also find themselves in the role of a caregiver to a loved one, and thus empathy is critical for the success of the caregiver-patient relationship. Furthermore, older adults are motivated to make strong emotional connections with others, as highlighted in the socioemotional selectivity theory. Consequently, reductions in empathy could negatively impact their goals. However, there is growing evidence that older adults experience at least some changes in empathy, depending on the domain. Specifically, the state of the research is that older adults have lower cognitive empathy (i.e., the ability to understand others' thoughts and feelings) than younger adults, but similar and in some cases even higher levels of emotional empathy (i.e., the ability to feel emotions that are similar to others' or feel compassion for them). A small number of studies have examined the neural mechanisms for age-related differences in empathy and have found reduced activity in a key brain area associated with cognitive empathy. However, more research is needed to further characterize how brain changes impact empathy with age, especially in the emotional domain of empathy. In this review, we discuss the current state of the research on age-related differences in the psychological and neural bases of empathy, with a specific comparison of the cognitive versus emotional components. Finally, we highlight new directions for research in this area and examine the implications of age-related differences in empathy for older adults.",
keywords = "Aging, Empathy, Neuroimaging, Prosocial behavior, Theory of mind",
author = "Beadle, {Janelle N} and {De La Vega}, {Christine E.}",
year = "2019",
month = "1",
day = "1",
doi = "10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00331",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "10",
journal = "Frontiers in Psychiatry",
issn = "1664-0640",
publisher = "Frontiers Research Foundation",
number = "JUN",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Impact of aging on empathy

T2 - Review of psychological and neural mechanisms

AU - Beadle, Janelle N

AU - De La Vega, Christine E.

PY - 2019/1/1

Y1 - 2019/1/1

N2 - Empathy in aging is a key capacity because it affects the quality of older adults' relationships and reduced levels are associated with greater loneliness. Many older adults also find themselves in the role of a caregiver to a loved one, and thus empathy is critical for the success of the caregiver-patient relationship. Furthermore, older adults are motivated to make strong emotional connections with others, as highlighted in the socioemotional selectivity theory. Consequently, reductions in empathy could negatively impact their goals. However, there is growing evidence that older adults experience at least some changes in empathy, depending on the domain. Specifically, the state of the research is that older adults have lower cognitive empathy (i.e., the ability to understand others' thoughts and feelings) than younger adults, but similar and in some cases even higher levels of emotional empathy (i.e., the ability to feel emotions that are similar to others' or feel compassion for them). A small number of studies have examined the neural mechanisms for age-related differences in empathy and have found reduced activity in a key brain area associated with cognitive empathy. However, more research is needed to further characterize how brain changes impact empathy with age, especially in the emotional domain of empathy. In this review, we discuss the current state of the research on age-related differences in the psychological and neural bases of empathy, with a specific comparison of the cognitive versus emotional components. Finally, we highlight new directions for research in this area and examine the implications of age-related differences in empathy for older adults.

AB - Empathy in aging is a key capacity because it affects the quality of older adults' relationships and reduced levels are associated with greater loneliness. Many older adults also find themselves in the role of a caregiver to a loved one, and thus empathy is critical for the success of the caregiver-patient relationship. Furthermore, older adults are motivated to make strong emotional connections with others, as highlighted in the socioemotional selectivity theory. Consequently, reductions in empathy could negatively impact their goals. However, there is growing evidence that older adults experience at least some changes in empathy, depending on the domain. Specifically, the state of the research is that older adults have lower cognitive empathy (i.e., the ability to understand others' thoughts and feelings) than younger adults, but similar and in some cases even higher levels of emotional empathy (i.e., the ability to feel emotions that are similar to others' or feel compassion for them). A small number of studies have examined the neural mechanisms for age-related differences in empathy and have found reduced activity in a key brain area associated with cognitive empathy. However, more research is needed to further characterize how brain changes impact empathy with age, especially in the emotional domain of empathy. In this review, we discuss the current state of the research on age-related differences in the psychological and neural bases of empathy, with a specific comparison of the cognitive versus emotional components. Finally, we highlight new directions for research in this area and examine the implications of age-related differences in empathy for older adults.

KW - Aging

KW - Empathy

KW - Neuroimaging

KW - Prosocial behavior

KW - Theory of mind

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85069160494&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=85069160494&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00331

DO - 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00331

M3 - Review article

VL - 10

JO - Frontiers in Psychiatry

JF - Frontiers in Psychiatry

SN - 1664-0640

IS - JUN

M1 - 331

ER -