Have Some Perspective: A Correlational Investigation of Empathy, Thinking Patterns, and Sociopolitical Ideology

Project Abstract

Fewer social maxims are repeated more often than “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” This sentiment encourages empathy by prompting one to change their entrenched thinking patterns. Empathy can be thought of as an active attempt to understand another’s perspective or the visceral sensation of identifying with another's emotions (i.e., cognitive, or affective empathy; Davis, 1983). Recently, research has identified a relationship between empathy and self-serving cognitive distortions (Grieve & Panebianco, 2013). Cognitive distortions refer to predictable and inaccurate patterns of thinking. Self-serving cognitive distortions are a form of distorted thinking patterns that are steeped in self-centered attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs (Barriga & Gibbs, 1996). Interestingly, right-of-center political ideology (i.e. conservative or Republican) has also been associated with less empathetic behavior (e.g. Eisenberg-Berg & Mussen, 1980; Marsden & Barnett, 2019). Understanding the relationships between all of three of these variables may help to better understand the factors that contribute to empathetic behavior. The primary goal of this study was to expand upon previous literature and investigate the relationships between empathy and cognitive distortions, and whether that relationship might help explain the connection between empathy and sociopolitical ideology. One-hundred and forty-four undergraduate psychology students participated in this study. Via an online survey, participants completed the How I Think Questionnaire (HIT-Q; Barriga & Gibbs, 1996) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983) to measure thinking patterns and empathy, respectively. The HIT-Q includes subscales of types of distortions, such as Self-Centered, Blaming Others, Minimizing/Mislabeling, and Assuming the Worst. The IRI includes four subscales assessing either cognitive or affective empathy, including Perspective Taking, Empathic Concern, Personal Distress, and Fantasizing. Finally, this study asked participants to report both their political orientation (7-point Likert scale ranging from ‘Very Liberal’ to ‘Very Conservative’) and political party identification (7-point Likert scale ranging from ‘Very Democratic’ to ‘Very Republican’). Consistent with expectations, there was a negative correlation between scores on the Self-Centered, Blaming Others, Minimizing/Mislabeling, and Assuming the Worst subscale(s) of the HIT-Q and the scores on the Perspective Taking, and Empathic Concern subscale(s) of the IRI. There was also a significant correlation between reported sociopolitical ideology and Perspective Taking scores on the IRI. However, no relationships were found between any of the HIT-Q subscales and sociopolitical ideology. These fail to support the idea that the relationship between sociopolitical ideology and empathy might be mediated by self-serving cognitive distortions.


Association for Psychological Sciences 2022 Convention

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts




Bachelors of Science in Psychology




Patrick Cushen

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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