“I Feel You!”: The Role of Empathic Competences in Reducing Ethnic Prejudice Among Adolescents


Beatrice Bobba, University of Bologna, Italy
Elisabetta Crocetti, University of Bologna, Italy


Being able to take on the perspective of other people might increase perceived similarities and reduce the dichotomous view of “Us vs. Them”, which is at the core of negative intergroup attitudes and experiences. Extensive research has highlighted that empathy can lessen prejudice over time but has neglected to account for the multifaceted nature of both empathic competences (i.e., empathic concern and perspective-taking) and prejudice (i.e., affective, cognitive, and behavioral). Thus, the purpose of the current study was threefold. First, it aimed to test the predominant role of the affective dimension of empathic competences and ethnic prejudice in leading changes in the other component(s) of each construct. Second, it examined the reciprocal direct associations of empathic competences and ethnic prejudice over time to test a dimension-matching hypothesis. That is, the affective (i.e., empathic concern and affective prejudice) and cognitive (i.e., perspective taking and cognitive prejudice) components of both constructs were expected to be strongly associated with each other. Third, mainly adopting an exploratory approach, this study aimed to test possible indirect associations across and between empathic competences and prejudice components.


Participants were 259 adolescents (Mage = 15.60, SDage = 0.63, 87.6% females) attending the 1st and 2nd year of high school. They completed online questionnaires during school hours at three time points across two academic years (T1: April 2021; T2: May 2021; T3: October 2021). The questionnaire comprised measures of affective, cognitive, and two forms of behavioral (i.e., low contact willingness and low intergroup helping intentions) ethnic prejudice, as well as measures of empathic concern and perspective-taking. A Cross-Lagged Panel Model was estimated in Mplus.


In line with previous research, empathic concern was found to predict subsequent levels of perspective taking over time highlighting the predominant role of affect over cognition in understanding others’ emotions and experiences. Similarly, affective prejudice was associated with higher levels of cognitive prejudice over time, but not the other way around. Moreover, the dimension-matching hypothesis was only partially supported by our findings. That is, empathic concern was associated with lower levels of all the three facets of prejudice, whereas perspective taking was linked to increases in cognitive and one form of behavioral prejudice (i.e., low contact willingness), in line with prior literature on bullying and cognitive empathy. Overall, findings from the mediation analyses support the precedence of affective processes over and above the cognitive ones. Immediate affective and emotional reactions in intergroup contexts (i.e., intergroup emotions) might first inform affective responses, which in turn drive their cognitive counterpart.


This study adopted a multidimensional approach to the study of ethnic prejudice and empathic competences, unraveling the longitudinal associations across and between different dimensions of each construct. Overall, these findings highlight the precedence of affective over cognitive processes and the protective role of empathic concern in preventing the development of negative feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. Therefore, evidence-based interventions should be directed at reducing affective prejudice, which appears to be the getaway for the reduction of its cognitive and behavioral counterparts.

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