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Online Psychology Study: How do people understand the thoughts and feelings of others?

By erin_86 16 July 2008 28


As part of the requirements of the Honours in Psychology program, I am currently undertaking an empirical research project. I am working under the supervision of Dr Jeff Ward, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at the Australian National University. This study has been approved by the Human Ethics Committee at the Australian National University.

And I would love it if you could participate in my project!

ALL ARE WELCOME, as long as you are 18 years and over.

This study has been designed to investigate the way in which people understand the thoughts and feelings of others. If you would like more information in relation to the aims of this study, please contact me after you have completed the study.

This study will take approximately 20-30 minutes of your time to complete. You will be asked to read six short transcripts, and respond to a series of questionnaires.

If you would like to participate in this study, please proceed to the following web address:

 Cheers, and thank you in advance if you decide to participate.


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28 Responses to
Online Psychology Study: How do people understand the thoughts and feelings of others?
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erin_86 11:03 pm 04 Oct 08

Hi all,

The debriefing as promised.

The questionnaire package you have completed was designed to measure the way in which people empathise with others. For the purposes of this study, empathy was defined as a process which enables a person to become familiar with, and to understand, the thoughts and feelings of others.

Research evidence from the fields of neuropsychology and neuroscience suggests that the human empathy system has two main components: (1) emotional empathy; and (2) cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy refers to an affective response which is typically congruent with, or very similar to, the emotional experience of another person, whereas cognitive empathy refers to intellectually taking the psychological perspective or role of another person.

Recently, it has been proposed that the extent to which individuals are able to use emotional and cognitive empathy independently of one another may vary according to biological sex. Specifically, it has been proposed that although men and women are likely to have an empathy system capable of using emotional and cognitive empathy in either a highly integrated or separate fashion, male empathy is likely tend towards greater separability of the emotional and cognitive systems, whereas female empathy is likely to tend toward reduced separability.

It has also been proposed that emotional and cognitive empathy are more likely to be utilised in certain social contexts. For example, it has been proposed the emotional empathy is likely to be utilised in social contexts involving bonding between a parent and infant, group cohesion and altruism, whereas cognitive empathy is likely to be utilised in social contexts involving deceit, manipulation and lying.

This study, therefore, aims to address the following questions: (1) are there specific social contexts in which emotional empathy is likely to be utilised independently of cognitive empathy; (2) are there specific social contexts in which cognitive empathy is likely to be utilised independently of emotional empathy; and (3) is the extent to which emotional and cognitive empathy can be utilised independently of one another linked to biological sex differences.


Davis, M. H. (1983b). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.

Decety, J., Jackson, P.L. & Brunet, E. (2007). The cognitive neuropsychology of empathy. In T. F.D. Farrow & P.W.R. Woodruff (Eds.), Empathy in mental illness (pp. 239-260). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, A. (2006). Cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in human behaviour and evolution. The Psychological Record, 56, 3-21.

Thank you for participating in this study.

erin_86 2:50 pm 22 Jul 08

Hi Staria,

Thanks for completing my study and for your commnents. I shall respond in dot points to your dot points. 🙂 Hehe.

a) You weren’t allowed to go back for a reason, but I can’t really say on this blog in case other people read it who haven’t done the study yet. It was basically because I wasn’t really interested in memory recall though, and was requiring you to use a different skill.
b) Ah! It’s amazing how you miss these things, even when you’ve checked it a million times. Sorry about that.
c) The reason I directed people to Lifeline is because I’m in no way qualified to help people in this regard myself. As an honours student, I don’t have any skills in this area just yet. I chose Lifeline because they are such an amazing group of people who have all the resources to point people in the right direction. I realise they are very busy, but I also reasoned that it was pretty unlikely that anyone would need to contact them having done my study. My study isn’t really of a personal nature, and doesn’t elicit information from people that is likely to cause them distress.

Again, thanks for all your comments.

Cheers, Erin.

staria 2:33 pm 22 Jul 08

Great survey! Good luck in getting a lot of responses.

Just a couple of points (dot points of course!):
* Not being about to go “back” to read the transcript was a bit frustrating. Was there a reason for this for your study, or was it just how the survey was created?
* There was a typo (“we” instead of “me”) on the last page of questions
* On the last page where it displays your details and the aims of the study, you direct participants to Lifeline if they need counselling after doing the survey… Part of me disagrees with this because I know that Lifeline is already so busy and understaffed (for want of a better word) and I feel that sometimes it’s the easy option to direct someone to Lifeline instead of finding another way to deal with the situation. Kinda like telling someone to go to the emergency room of a hospital in the first instance knowing that the ER is already overwhelmed. Just my two cents anyway. Happy to hear your thoughts on this as a psyschology student!

mdme workalot 9:18 am 17 Jul 08

Done Erin 🙂
Great idea posting it on here – hopefully you get enough responses!
All the best

tylersmayhem 8:25 am 17 Jul 08

Good suggestion from BlackIce. That actually crossed my mind while filling it our yesterday, but I got caught up with work so I forgot.

BlackIce 12:27 am 17 Jul 08

Hi Erin,
I know it’s too late, but it might have been interesting for you to include a question “have you experienced a similar situation” after the stories, as that also affects how the story is perceived by the respondent.

johnboy 10:33 pm 16 Jul 08

Make lots of comments Erin and you too can move up the ranks.

erin_86 10:09 pm 16 Jul 08

Thanks Danman 🙂

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