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

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?
erin_86 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 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 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 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 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 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 johnboy 10:33 pm 16 Jul 08

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

erin_86 erin_86 10:09 pm 16 Jul 08

Thanks Danman 🙂

Danman Danman 9:13 pm 16 Jul 08

Done Erin. Hope all goes well

Vic Bitterman Vic Bitterman 7:21 pm 16 Jul 08

Cos yer a newbie Erin.

PS filled it in for ya. Took about 20 minutes. Made me think quite carefully, not something I usually do 🙂

erin_86 erin_86 6:52 pm 16 Jul 08

Hey how come you all get cool titles, and I’m just “newbie”? 🙂

erin_86 erin_86 6:51 pm 16 Jul 08

Hi filed,

Sorry about that – it’s more an artefact of the data program I am using than an intention to make the box so big. Thanks for hanging in there!

I-filed I-filed 6:47 pm 16 Jul 08

Hi Erin,

Having that huge box to write text in was confronting. Maybe make it clear that a couple of words is OK? Or did you require real effort? I’m much less concerned about the time it takes, than the need to actually write sentences (or dot points) … I nearly dropped out on the second screen!

astrojax astrojax 5:08 pm 16 Jul 08

no, head-b, but it is psychology, that other black art! ; )

interesting survey, erin – wonder how you’d go with a mob of aspergers / autists doing it…

Headbonius Headbonius 4:29 pm 16 Jul 08

So long as it does not involve Thetan healing or Reiki it will be great.

Avy Avy 1:47 pm 16 Jul 08

peterh said :

If he was to complete your survey, it would appear as if he was a female respondent.

That’s part and parcel of social science research. But with enough participants, such intervening and confounding factors can be mitigated or randomised out.

Good luck Erin!

tylersmayhem tylersmayhem 1:16 pm 16 Jul 08

I have to say that this is one of the more unique posts I’ve seen on here in a while! No worries, I’ll get surveying now. Good luck with your program Erin!

realityskin realityskin 1:16 pm 16 Jul 08

Yours will do fine, thanks Erin.

peterh peterh 1:13 pm 16 Jul 08

erin_86 said :

Hi Peterh,

I think that is a really good point. I will definately keep that in mind for future studies. Hopefully, if I get to do a PhD I will get to investigate other variables such as those you have suggested.

Thanks a lot for participating. 🙂

Cheers, Erin.

Hi Erin,

to give you an example, I have a friend (its not me) who has Klinefelters syndrome, and was raised by his mother. His perception is radically different from those of a normal adult male, possibly due to the influence of his condition (klinefelters sufferers do not produce testosterone) and his mother’s views that she has imparted upon him.

If he was to complete your survey, it would appear as if he was a female respondent.

erin_86 erin_86 1:12 pm 16 Jul 08

I think I would be pretty pressed to get Ethics approval for that! 🙂

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