Does sexual orientation affect empathy?

Kristin E. McCall, The College of Wooster


This study evaluates the relationship between sexual orientation and empathy levels towards victims of domestic violence. The study was conducted at the College of Wooster. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three scenarios of a domestically violent dispute. Each scenario was identical; the only change was the couple's names to correspond with a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a straight couple. The principle hypothesis tested in this study was that participants would have higher empathy levels for the heterosexual couple than either of the homosexual couples. Data indicated that indeed participants had a higher empathy level for the heterosexual couple compared to the homosexual couples (F (79, 2)=3.590, p= .032). A secondary hypothesis was that women would have a greater level of empathy in all conditions than men, this was also supported (F (79, 2)= 4.102, p= .046). The last hypothesis was that participants with a strong preference for straight people would have lower levels of empathy towards the homosexual victims compared to heterosexual victims of domestic violence. This hypothesis was not supported. Implications of these findings are discussed.