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GENDER DIFFERENCES IN ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE MEDIATING ROLE OF EMOTIONAL EMPATHY
Steven Arnocky Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University Mirella Stroink Department of Psychology, Lakehead University ABSTRACT The present study tested whether a greater level of emotional empathy in women mediates the commonly reported relationship between gender and environmental concern and action. In an undergraduate sample (N=202), it was found that gender differences existed in altruistic environmental concerns as well as in willingness to cooperate and compete for resources in a self-report commons dilemma. It was found that gender differences were fully mediated (i.e., reduced to non-significance) by emotional empathy.. Implications and suggestions for future study of this issue are offered. INTRODUCTION
Given the global goals of
Researchers have identified a phenomenon whereby women report greater concern for the natural environment than men (see Kopelman, Weber, & Messick, 2002; Mohai, 1992; Zelezny, Chua, & Aldrich, 2000). Yet surprisingly little empirical work has attempted to identify potential determinants of this gender difference (Dietz, Kalof, & Stern, 2002), leaving unanswered the question of why women seem to care more for the environment. Empathy is the experiencing of a vicarious response to the perceived emotional state of others (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1990), which Empathizing-Systemizing Theory suggests is an important aspect of social functioning that is based on socialization and biological structure, and importantly, is expressed more often by women than men (Baron-Cohen, 2002, 2008, 2009; Lawson, Baron-Cohen, & Wheelwright, 2004). Research has established empathy as being important to the expression of environmentalism. Generally, empathy induction has been shown to increase altruism (Batson, 1991; Batson, Chang, Orr, & Rowlan, 2002). More specifically, recent studies have found that environmental behaviours and attitudes can be improved through empathy induction (Berenguer, 2007; Schultz, 2000; Sevillano, Aragonés, & Schultz, 2007;
Schultz (2001) reported significant gender differences with women scoring higher than men on all three concerns. More recently. 2002. et al. if players compete with one another by harvesting the full amount possible. Stockard. & Stern. 1998). Gender Differences in Environmental Concern and Behavior A meta-analysis of the literature on gender and environmentalism indicated females are more concerned than men for the natural environment. Van Liere & Dunlap. (2000) reported 6 of 9 studies found significant gender differences in environmental concern (assessed utilizing New Environmental/Ecological Paradigm).. Studies have found the percentage of women who cooperate is greater than with men. Zelezny. and demonstrated evidence for these differences in samples gathered across 14 countries.. and Dodge (1988) found that women were more likely to cooperate than men when participants were allowed to discuss strategy. Hungerford. e.. Van Lange. 1998. De Bruin & Joireman. empathy is understood as being expressed more frequently by females. Stuhlmacher. Kalof. 1988.g. 2002 for review). Karniol. Mehrabian. the resource supply depletes at a greater rate leaving each player with a minimal accumulation of resources (Hardin.. children) and biospheric (environmental concern centered on the biosphere. & Sato. Monahan.g. plants. Blocker & Eckberg. 1989)..g. Ochion.Dietz. However. Young. Groups comprised of only women cooperated at a rate significantly greater than groups comprised of only men or mixed gender groups (Nowell & Tinker. Van De Kragt. and thus might account for gender differences in environmentalism (e. 1997).. Further. 1997. this results in greater accumulation of resources for each player. where women expressed greater concern than men. 1986-87. & Tomera. 2005). Karpiak and Baril (2008) found that women reported greater environmental concern and less apathy toward the environment in a study of 158 college students. social-altruistic (environmental concern centered on other humans. The authors found the hypothesized gender difference in environmental behaviour in 9 of 13 studies. which can be described as being egoistic (environmental concern centered on the self). 1983 a critique of previous null findings). 1994). Gender differences also exist between priorities of environmental concern. 1968).. & Harari. Importantly. Gender Differences in the Commons Dilemma Similar gender differences have been identified in commons dilemma research (see Kopelman et al. e. If all players cooperate by “harvesting” fewer resources on each turn. 1980. and the percentage of men who compete is greater than with women (e. Walters. 1968). & Meyer. While previous reviews have been less compelling (Hines. A commons dilemma is a situation in which one competes or cooperates with others to obtain maximal resources (Hardin. animals) (Schultz & Zelezny. 1999. Otten. Schultz et al. Gabay. The Role of Empathy in Environmental Concern . see also Mcstay & Dunlap.g.
Young.g. 1988). Bush. Keller. The socialization of gender roles suggests that women are socialized to behave in a more compassionate. 1990. Gabay. & Perry. 1974. & Shelton (2005) found that high levels of narcissism characterized by a lack of empathy felt toward others related to greater harvesting of natural resources in a commons dilemma. 1996) should enable them to more easily experience environmental concerns that extend beyond the self.g. 2008. The more narcissists that existed within a group of four. This theory suggests that men and women are socialized differently vis-à-vis emotion (e. we tested . nurturing. Thus. 2005.. 1998. In this way emotional empathy differs conceptually from (but is related to) cognitive perspective taking (Eisenberg & Strayer.. Stotland. 2002. For instance. Mehrabian. Stern. Bretherton & Munn. others and the biosphere affect the expression of environmental concern for living things beyond the individual (Schultz et al. & Harari. Young boys and girls are exposed to different socialization experiences. Dunn. Dietz. rather than intellectual level of interpersonal process (Mehrabian.g. 2001. they are strongly related to gender (e. Butler & Fivush. From this perspective. The tendency of women to be more socially responsible and oriented towards others (e. 1993). Brunell. Ochion. 1988). 1987). & Sato. Empathy is an important aspect of cooperation (Astin. A significant interaction was found where images of animals being harmed in nature prompted the greatest levels of biospheric concern in the perspective-taking condition versus the objective condition (see also Sevillano et al. the fewer total resources were ultimately available for harvest.What might account for these gender differences? The priority of environmental concern is suggested as being a derivation of a value orientation – where values pertaining to the self. it is logical to expect that empathy may too be important to cooperation in an environmental commons dilemma. emotional empathy is fundamental to the stereotypical role of women. (1998) noted that although caring and justice orientations are not necessarily gender-specific. According to social role theory of gender differences (Eagly.. Thus systematic differences in values or the experience of empathy toward other living things might account for gender differences.. 2007). with girls’ oriented toward an ethic of caring as opposed to an ethic of justice. Wilkinson & Kitzinger.. 1989). Singer et al. 1988. 1996. 1969).g. & Kalof. Karniol et al. with the ethic of caring promoting empathic concern (Gilligan & Wiggins. Gender Role Socialization and Emotional Empathy Women often report greater emotional empathy (e. Mehrabian & Epstein. 1999). 1987) and is influential in social dilemma performance (Batson & Moran. A lack of empathy is detrimental to performance in the commons. Howard & Hollander. & Sato. 1995). 2009. 1988). Young. Aharon-Peretz. Monahan. Gilligan. whereby resources are allocated to sources of empathy.g.. The Role of Empathy in the Commons Dilemma Empathy is also considered fundamental to helping behaviour (e. Kuebli. Gilligan & Attanucci. Eisenberg. and cooperative manner.. 1985). 1972). 1987. Myyry & Helkama. Schultz (2000) induced empathic concern for the natural environment in participants through a perspective-taking task. or within a dyad. 1987. 1982. whereas males are generally socialized to be competitive and independent (Chodrow. Eagly. Campbell. Shamay-Tsoory. Emotional empathy is a basic. Karniol.
and behaviours of university students.. However. This measure is a hypothetical situation in which participants envision they are a cattle farmer sharing grazing land with in-group (Canadian) and out-group (American) members.egoistic concern (alpha = 0.82).g. 5= strongly agree).Mehrabian & Epstein. cooperativeness.8). (alpha = 0. Materials and Procedures Emotional Empathy All self-report measures were provided in a questionnaire. 2008). Each subscale was internally consistent. Participants then attribute a score of importance of concern for each item pertaining to the self (e. but not limited to seeing someone in distress. 63 of whom were male and 139 of whom were female. Each “farmer” has 10 cattle living off of the land and at these numbers the land is completely self-sustaining (zero depletion). Social Altruistic and Biospheric Concerns Environmental concern was assessed using Schultz’s (2001) 12-item self-report measure. and biospheric concern (alpha = 0.. This measure assesses a tendency toward emotional arousal across scenarios including. The sample consisted of primarily Caucasians (83. Participants were compensated with course credit. my friends. M. METHOD Participants Undergraduate students (N=202) from a university in Ontario were recruited as participants. all people) or to the biosphere (e. Arnocky et al.88). Age ranged from 17 to 30 years.g. 1972) is a widely-used 33-item self-report measure of emotional empathy (Stueber. The Emotional Empathic Tendency Scale (EETS . social-altruistic concern (alpha = 0. SD=3. my lifestyle.g. the land would deplete rapidly. Egoistic. (1= strongly disagree.. equalling greater profit. The measure was internally consistent.. plants. The participant then has the option to add 5 more cattle without repercussions from the other farmers. Self Report Commons Dilemma Cooperation in a commons dilemma was measured using a self-report situational questionnaire – the Self Report Commons Dilemma (SRCD.the hypotheses that 1) gender differences exist in the self-reported environmental concerns. Table 1 provides descriptive statistics (n. if each farmer were to do so. and SD). 2007). (M= 20. Using a 5-point scale.81). marine life) using a sevenpoint Likert-scale with response options between 1 (not important) to 7 (supreme importance). my health). and that 2) emotional empathy would mediate the gender-environmentalism relationship. participants rate their . Items score along a 9point scale ranging from –4 (very strongly disagree) to +4 (very strongly agree).88). Participants completed the sentence “I am concerned about environmental problems because of the consequences for” followed by 12 response options.4%). to other humans (e.
00 3. cooperative “I feel responsible for the well-being of the other farmers”. ecological cooperative “It is important to me that I practice sustainable farming”.16 3.33 4.00 6. (alpha = 0. and ecological cooperation.66 1.60).. cooperation for others. Deviation 3. Cottrell.60 .60 4. Table 1. N Age Gender Emotional Empathy Egoistic Concerns Altruistic Concerns Biospheric Concerns Competitive Cooperative Ecological Cooperative Environmental Behaviour 202 202 202 201 202 202 202 202 202 202 Mean 20 ----1. 2005).02 2.70 0.81). Fransson & Garling. (alpha = 0. Honnold.65 6. Descriptive Statistics for each measure. (α = 0. Howell & Laska. or using alternative modes of transportation (Arnocky et al. 1984.68). and was included as a control variable in relevant analyses. Example item are as follows: competitive “I would increase my number of cattle on the land without telling the others”. cooperate (do not add cattle) for the well-being of the other farmers (cooperation subscale).24 0. donating money to an environmental political cause.78 0.00 3.62 0... 1979. Self Reported Environmental Behaviours Pro-environmental behaviour was measured with 15 items concerning frequency of conservation behaviours such as turning off lights or the television.00 3. It has been suggested that that moderate level of internal consistency for the cooperation with others measure may be due to the combination of both in-group and out-group cooperation in the factor structure (Arnocky et al. 2003.76).willingness to compete (add 5 cattle) (competition subscale). 2007.. Response options ranged from 1 (never) to 5 (very often). or for the well-being of the ecosystem (ecological cooperation subscale).00 ----8.75 6.00 5.18 5. Schultz et al. (alpha = 0.82 ----0. 2007). 1980).43 3.30 Range 13. Van Liere & Dunlap.99 0.27 Std. Age correlated only with social-altruistic concern. Buttel.45 5. RESULTS Descriptive Findings Age was considered as a control variable. 1992. The SRCD provided acceptable reliability: competitiveness.g.26 1. The measure was internally consistent. 1999. given that studies have found positive correlations between age and environmental concern and behaviour (e.
30** 1 .68 SD = 0. Competition 8.18** . t (202) = -2.10 1 . Importantly.13 SD=0.501.32.69.23. Emotional Empathy 4.44.26. We next examined the relationship between gender and empathy.00 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 .06 . In examining gender differences in willingness to compete or cooperate for ecological resources.41** 1 -. Egoistic Concern 5.33** .04.05.02 .78.11 -. Emotional empathy.15* . 1000 bootstrapping samples were derived.07 . t (202) = -2.50** . Altruistic Concern 6.34** .17* . Age 2.11 . When emotional empathy was entered into the model with gender predicting altruistic concern.21** . Preacher and Hayes (2008) suggest that utilizing a bootstrapping method is superior to alternative modalities because it does not enforce the assumption of a normally distributed sample.13 -.14* . Ecological Cooperative 10. p < .11 .Sex Differences in Environmental Concern and Behaviour We first tested which pro-environmental concerns and behaviours differ significantly on gender using point-biserial correlations (see Table 2). M-women = 2. Bootstrapping is a nonparametric re-sampling method.13 -. M-women = 6. Table 2.49** -.58. Pearson Product Moment Correlations.10 1 -. gender differences were found for ecological cooperation (M-men = 4. We found significant gender differences for social-altruistic concerns (M-men = 5. 2002). Gender did not correlate with self-reported pro-environmental behaviour.01 -.05).34%).13 1 .38 SD=0. Biospheric Concern 7.05) and competitiveness (M-men = 2. ns) were significantly correlated with gender.68. ns).01 SD = 0.17* .44** . Behaviour 1 .06 . we found that emotional empathy mediated the link between gender and altruistic concern (Sobel test: z = 2.01 (two-tailed) The Mediating Role of Emotional Empathy Standardized regression coefficients are presented.05 . t (202) = 0.32** 1 -.05 (two-tailed) **p<.05 . nor egoistic concerns (t (201) = 0. (b = 0. 1 1.01). whereas the link between gender and altruistic concern .05 -.97. Gender 3.16* -.14.90. Gender predicted emotional empathy. bootstrapping: 95% LL = 0. p < 0. Bootstrapping procedures for testing indirect effects outlined by MacKinnon et al.. (2002) were employed.22** .76 SD = 1.39** .56. This method provides confidence intervals based upon an estimate of the sampling distribution. bootstrapping procedures might also relate to increased power and reduced Type-I error rate (MacKinnon et al.00 .001). r= . In the present study.89. Cooperative Others 9. (b = 0.06 .04 .06 .36** .47** *p<.09 2 1 . and age as a covariate.19. Neither biospheric (t (202) = -1. p < 0.17* -. r = 0.40** .42** .20** .14. p < 0. M-women = 4.05) significantly predicted altruistic concern. p < 0.23 SD=0. 95% UL = 0. p < 0.
b = 0. R squared change = 0. while men . When empathy was included into the model. 2007. In the present study gender predicted emotional empathy in the hypothesized direction. 1987.36%). bootstrapping: 95% LL = -0. (b = -0. Moreover.001. Women expressed greater levels of altruistic concern and cooperation for the sake of the ecosystem. suggesting that empathy mediated the relationship between gender and competitiveness in a commons dilemma. Berenguer. Keller.14%). Ecological cooperation was the final variable to show significant gender differences.0% (adjusted R square) of explained variance. gender was found to account for 2% (adjusted R square) of explained variance in competitiveness. and more broadly to altruistic behaviour (Berenguer. R squared change = 0. 95% UL = -0.was reduced to non-significance. p < 0.10 for a total explained variance of 12%. and competitiveness for ecological resources. (b = -0. ns).169. DISCUSSION The study of gender differences in environmental concern and behaviour has been a contentious research topic within the field of environmental psychology (see Arcury et al. p < 0.009. ns).. bootstrapping: 95% LL = 0. 1993). 1987. nurturing. Sevillano et al. The model including emotional empathy explained 7% (adjusted R square) of the total variance. empathy predicted ecological cooperation. ns). p < . Furthermore. explained variance increased significantly. (Sobel test: z = 0. Dietz et al. Socialization and gender-role theories suggest women are raised to value and empathize with the needs of others more than men (Stern et al. when empathy was entered into the second step of the equation. it contributed significantly toward explained variance.05) to (b = 0. Again.001.. 2002. and as such behave in a more compassionate. 95% UL = 0. 1997. Yet a number of studies (see Blocker & Eckberg. self-reported cooperation for the sake of the ecosystem.06. Thus empathy or the valuing of others (Eagly. (Sobel test: z = 4.354. and cooperative manner in general (Chodrow. (b = -0. For competitiveness.001. p < 0.. 1985). R squared change =0. Indeed. 2000) has been suggested as influencing gender differences in environmental concern and behaviour (see Blocker and Eckberg. empathy remained a significant predictor of competitiveness. from (b = 0. Taken together.076. 1974. the significant mediating effect of emotional empathy on each originally significant gender difference lends support to the hypothesis that gender differences on these variables is accounted for by greater levels of empathy in women. 2000).. Zelezny et al.03. where gender accounted for 2. The present study represents a formal test of this hypothesis.08 for a total explained variance of 10%. 1997 for review) and a metaanalysis (Zelezny et al.. Significant gender differences were found among altruistic concerns.001). p < 0. 2007 for review).330. whereas the effect of gender was again reduced to non-significance. empathy is fundamental to the expression of environmental concern and behavioural intention.44.003. 2007).. Teal & Loomis. whereas gender was reduced to non-significance.50. The same procedure was performed for competitiveness and again for ecological cooperation.12. 2000) have confirmed that women often report greater concern for the ecosystem.
competitiveness and ecological cooperation. but did not meet inclusion criteria for examining empathy as a mediator to the potential gender difference. This finding was similar to the small effect sizes reported by Zelezny et al. the role of empathy might become less important in determining or predicting concern. and future research might benefit from exploring this area along the lines of Schultz. as well as in competitiveness and cooperation in sharing common resources. Our student sample may not be representative of the general populous. although women reported greater levels of environmental concern for the sake of other living things. Of course. especially given the restricted age range and the greater amount of women characterizing our sample. albeit small contribution to explained variance. Although gender differences were not present among some criterion variables. the mediated effects were confirmed by significant Sobel tests. Similar to Teal and Loomis (2000) no gender differences were found in pro-environmental behaviours. For altruistic concern. (2000) in their meta-analysis as well as the small effect of gender noted by Kopelman et al. suggesting that emotional empathy mediated the initial relationships between gender and these outcomes. Gender differences in biospheric concerns approached significance. (2007). (2002) to exist in the commons dilemma. as environmental issues become more localized. Limitations and Future Directions The present work is the first empirical step toward building a body of evidence accounting for gender differences in environmentalism.. or more severe. Future research should address the following limitations. The present study also speaks to the role that empathy induction can play in promoting greater environmental concern among men. especially when the measures of environmental concern or behaviour are generalized forms of assessment that are likely to be related to these traits and emotive tendencies. the relationship between gender and that form of concern or behaviour was reduced to non-significance. In each case.expressed more competitiveness for resources. it should be noted that empathy did correlate with cooperation for the sake of others. (2000) and Sevillano et al. When emotional empathy was included in the model for each criterion where a significant gender difference initially existed. emotional empathy did not correlate with biospheric concerns. No gender differences were found concerning egoistic concerns. A potential explanation of this non-significant relationship is presented in the limitations section. and possibly other measures of feminine traits as factors that will likely account for gender differences among pro-environmental variables. but the relationship did follow the hypothesized direction. specific to the individual. highlighting the potential importance of empathy to the endorsement of these behaviours. emotional empathy made a significant. . or in cooperation (resource sharing) for the sake of others in the SRCD. The contribution of gender toward explained variance was relatively small for each criterion. Surprisingly. Future research should consider empathy. The implication of this finding is that empathy should be considered key to explaining gender differences among priorities of environmental concern. The hypothesis that greater emotional empathy in women would account for gender differences was strongly supported.
(1987) found the gendered relationship to be reversed. such as in the case of acid rain. Because the EETS taps into empathy felt toward other humans (which is also likely felt by those who empathize with all living things. The finding that biospheric concerns were not correlated with the EETS is likely due to the fact that the EETS does not distinguish between empathy felt toward other humans versus toward non-humans. it does not sufficiently parse those who are concerned for all living things from those concerned only for humanity. we cannot assume that such reactions would carry over into the biospheric domain. the results of the present study suggest that gender differences commonly reported in more generalized types of environmentalism are accounted for by greater emotional empathy expressed by women. While it is sensible to posit that someone who would react with great emotional empathy to seeing another human in a distressing situation would be more likely to express greater environmental concern for the sake of other humans (altruistic concern) these individuals may not feel the same way toward other living things.Future research would benefit from addressing these variables in a more representative sample. as humans should theoretically be included in that construct). This may have lead to type-II error through a reduced level of predictive validity regarding concerns for non-human life. . It would be worthwhile to examine gender differences across more specific types of behavioural responses to a perceived environmental threat. but does not distinguish between the two. Because the EETS was not designed for assessing emotional-empathic reactions toward non-humans. The limitations aside. In the current study gender did correlate with one example of behaviour -“recycling newspapers and magazines”. where Arcury et al.
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