Empathy not quarantined: Association between people’s empathy to others and the COVID-19 pandemic situations based on a national survey study (Preprint)

Zhibin Jiang, Fan Yang, Bu Zhong, Xuebing Qin

Research output: Working paperPreprint

Abstract

Background: The Covid-19 pandemic had turned the world upside down, but not much is known about how people’s empathy might be affected by the pandemic.

Objective: This study examined 1) how empathy towards others might be influenced by the social support people obtained by using social media; and 2) how the individual demographics (e.g., age, income) may affect empathy.

Methods: A national survey (N = 943) was conducted in China in February 2020, in which the participants read three real scenarios about low-income urban workers (Scenario I), small business owners in cities (Scenario II), and farmers in rural areas (Scenario III) who underwent hardship due to COVID-19. After exposure to others’ difficulties in the scenarios, the participants’ empathy and anxiety levels were measured. We also measured the social support they had by using social media.

Results: Results show that social support not only positively impacted empathy, β = .30, P < .001 for Scenario I, β = .30, P < .001 for Scenario II, and β = .29, P < .001 for Scenario III, but also interacted with anxiety in influencing the degree to which participants could maintain empathy towards others, β = .08, P = .010 for Scenario I, and β = .07, P = .033 for scenario II. Age negatively predicted empathy for Scenario I, β = -.08, P = .018 and Scenario III, β = -.08, P = .009, but not for Scenario II, β = -.03, P = .40. Income levels – low, medium, high – positively predicted empathy for Scenario III, F (2, 940) = 8.10, P < .001, but not for Scenario I, F (2, 940) = 2.14, P = .12, or Scenario II, F (2, 940) = 2.93, P = .06. Participants living in big cities expressed greater empathy towards others for Scenario III, F (2, 940) = 4.03, P =.018, but not for Scenario I, F (2, 940) = .81, P = .45, or Scenario II, F (2, 940) = 1.46, P =.23.

Conclusions: This study contributes to the literature by discovering the critical role empathy plays in people’s affective response to others during the pandemic. Anxiety did not decrease empathy. However, those gaining more social support on social media showed more empathy for others. Those who resided in cities with higher income levels were more empathetic during the COVID-19 outbreak. This study reveals that the social support people obtained helped maintain empathy to others, making them resilient in challenging times.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherJMIR Publications Inc.
Number of pages31
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameJMIR Preprints

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