By Isabella Polito, Irvine Valley College
Empathy feeds compassion in a world that desperately needs it. The innate desire people have forconnections requires the ability to relate with others, to properly assimilate and thrive in their communities. The ability to feel for another individual when they are going through a difficult time, whether it be a family matter or a personal frustration, or sharing an individual’s happiness and excitement for their successes, can create a bond that sustains true friendships and lasting relationships. In addition to further strengthening bonds in relationships, empathy helps connect people who otherwise would not have anything in common, who experience very different obstacles and hardships in their lives, such as neighbors and peers who still play an integral role in people’s everyday lives. For example, The United States is a country that is prominent for its diversity, and to properly and successfully flourish and advance together in a community filled with individuals who come from all walks of life, with different experiences, cultural and religious affiliations, the ability to relate to one another on even the most basic and humane levels would ultimately benefit society as a whole. However, it is a practice that bears both positive and negative ramifications for people that attempt to put themselves in others’ shoes. While the practice of empathy can share feelings of joy and happiness among people, in times of despair, it can also bring sadness and distress when attempting to comfort others through difficult times. This makes the practice of empathy difficult for many individuals and hinders its application in people’s everyday lives, with neighbors and peers or even with friends and family, concealing its immense potential to bring people together.
Historically, empathy has been researched as an aspect of Emotional Intelligence, but recently literature
studying empathy as its own independent practice, has discovered it to be much more than simply one “piece of the puzzle”. Generally, emotional intelligence is broad in its definition in the world of psychology, and is described as one’s ability to understand, control and express their own emotions, while also being aware of others emotions. While empathy rightfully should fall under this umbrella, recently it has been researched independently and has been described as being multidimensional, specifically an ability consisting of two subcategories, Perspective-taking and Empathic Concern (Cameron et al., 2019; Longmire & Harrison, 2018; Murphy & Lilienfeld, 2019; Oliver et al., 2018; Pkaar et al., 2019; Van Der Greff et al., 2014; Decety &Yoder, 2016). These two categories are both crucial in determining an individual’s ability to empathize, but differentiates how they impact that individual and their point of view in situations. Perspective-taking, which has also been referred to as Cognitive Empathy or self-focused empathy, is a form of empathy that focuses primarily on interpreting the emotions of other individuals and their situation while not involving one’s own personal emotions. For example, the common phrase of “putting oneself in another’s shoes” is primarily a cognitive task. On the other hand, Empathic concern, which has also been called by other names in literature, such as other-focused or affective empathy, involves being able to properly share and understand a person’s emotional experience. For example, it is used when individuals are encouraged to ask themselves how someone else might “feel”, in certain situations, which involves a more affective task. In today’s current political and social climate, this study researches the implication of empathy in individuals different sensitivities of justice.
Once empathy has been determined to be multidimensional, and include multiple components, research in
empathy has also been conducted on the development through the perspective of its role in moral development. In a longitudinal study researching the development of empathy in adolescence, empathy was again inspected through its categories of perspective-taking and empathic concern from the ages of 13 to 18. The development of empathic concern for girls was much quicker than for boys, and overall girls showed more empathic concern than boys. The data showed that boys had an initial decrease of empathic concern in their early years of adolescence before rebounding to their initial level, and data found that less physically developed boys had more empathic concern than those who were more developed. Overall, the study supported the initial finding that perspective taking developed over the years with cognitive ability (Van Der Graff, et al. 2014). The study gives insight into how empathy is developed in adolescence over the years and can be used to draw inferences on how it can develop in varying degrees of empathic concern and perspective-taking into their adulthood.
Furthermore, research in empathy as a multidimensional concept has been conducted in different settings to
determine the differences between the practices of empathic concern and perspective-taking. While being researched in the context of a work environment and how it can benefit or hinder faculty, literature has separated empathy, into the constructs of perspective-taking and empathic concern. Through a meta-analysis that concluded the constructs shared less than 25 percent variance, declaring them completely separate mechanisms within empathy, a study found that perspective-taking is more beneficial for supervisors relationships with their employees, while empathic concern was more problematic (Longmire & Harrison, 2018). Overall, other-focused emotional intelligence, like perspective-taking was found to be more beneficial to decrease subjective stress in a work environment, while empathic concern or self-focused emotional intelligence was found to be beneficial in task performance (Pekaar, et al. 2019). Given the context of a work environment, it makes sense that other-focused emotional intelligence, like perspective-taking is less stress inducing when working directly with other individuals as seen in a study that required women to rate their levels of stress after taking 5 work related emotional phone calls. This also supports the finding that self-focused emotional intelligence such as empathic concern, benefited these women in task-performance when working individually, without needing to work directly with other individuals. Supporting these findings, another study conducted on empathic concern and perspective taking found that empathic concern is more motivating than perspective-taking in the workplace (Longmire & Harrison, 2018). Which can explain why empathic concern can be much more stressful for employees than perspective-taking. Research has even supported the idea of avoiding empathy altogether due to its consequences. A study with over 1,000 participants concluded that empathy was often avoided due to its cognitive costs, when determining the cost and benefit of choosing an empathetic route when dealing with a situation (Cameron, et al. 2019). This finding suggests that individuals would rather avoid empathy, even if it was the correct response to the circumstance, because of the cognitive and emotional consequences.
Additional research in empathy has been conducted in the context of social justice involving the motivation
to volunteer to help others in times of need, and prejudice development. This research has been conducted largely due to prior research finding that empathy, or lack thereof, is relevant to multiple psychopathological constructs (Murphy & Lilienfield, 2019). When looking into more specific social situations, studies have found additional evidence to support this claim, such as a study that researched empathy’s involvement in prejudice. The 3 phase study researched empathy with a between-person and within-person design to determine the relationship between anti-immigrant attitudes and empathy. The results found that perspective-taking directly predicted an individual’s anti-immigration attitudes, and empathic concern did so indirectly, through its effects on perspective-taking (Miklikowska, 2018). The findings of the study were significant enough to suggest that in reducing anti-immigrant attitudes among adolescents, there should be a focus on perspective-taking and empathic concern. Another study that looked into social empathy, with a sample of social work students, researching the relationship between empathic concern, perspective-taking, political affiliations, and stances on policies that involved social justice, found that social empathy was most beneficial in promoting the importance of understanding and advancing social justice (Segal & Wagaman, 2017).
Empathy in relation to the court system has also been examined. Justice Sensitivity is described in research
as an individual’s desire and motivation to hold up certain principles of Justice (Decety & Yoder, 2016). In this specific study, empathy was defined as cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and motivational empathy. With a total of 265 participants completing the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), a “self” and “other” Justice Sensitivity scale, and a variety of moral scenarios, the study yielded unexpected results. Emotional empathy, which was determined by the Personal Distress portion of the IRI was not found to be associated with Justice sensitivity.
Instead, cognitive empathy (or perspective-taking), and empathic concern were found to be correlated to individuals Justice Sensitivity (Decety & Yoder, 2016). Another study, researched if empathy-induced altruism, which is defined as a selfless concern for others well-being, can result in violations of moral principles of justice (Batson et al., 1995). The study found that individuals who were not encouraged to empathize were more likely than those that were encouraged to empathize to properly uphold the morals of Justice. For example, individuals that empathize would allocate preferentially to those they empathized with, while those that did not remained indifferent. Similarly, another study investigated the effects of empathy manipulation on jurors decisions in the courtroom. The study involved having participants read trial transcripts involving the killing of a parent in self defense by their own child due to ongoing abuse. The findings indicated that those participants that were encouraged to take the perspective of the defendant found them less guilty of the crime, than those who were not. They also found abuse to be a more significant mitigating factor in the killing of the parents (Haegerich, 2000). These findings give more insight into the role that this multifaceted practice has in individuals’ Justice Sensitivity and provide a foundation for further research in a court of law. Especially in a country as diverse as the United States, neighbors who live across the street from one another can be accustomed to completely different cultures, religions, and traditions that could ultimately be very problematic if empathy were not taught as an essential skill to practice. Tolerance and acceptance is only possible with understanding, and empathy can assist individuals in broadening their willingness to understand. Nonetheless, the importance of this ability is controversial in an area that could potentially benefit from its influences. The United States court of law is one of the only in the world that grants people the constitutional right to have a jury of their peers throughout their trial (U.S Const. amend. XI). A jury of peers, or “equals”, is a right that criminal defendants have that allow a wide range of individuals from their community, varying in ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation to hear evidence, and decide if the defendant is “guilty”, or “not guilty”. It is a form of checks and balances, but is also a way to help the perspective and reasoning behind the alleged crime of the defendant to be better understood. In other words, a jury of peers is the empathy factor in a court of law.
This present study researches the role of different forms of empathy on college students’ justice sensitivity.
As a result of prior research, it is expected that there will be a positive relationship between General Empathy and
Empathic Concern. It is also expected that there will be a positive, but weaker relationship between General
Empathy and Perspective-Taking. In addition, it is expected that there will be a strong positive relationship between Personal Distress and Empathic Concern. It is also expected that there will be a positive, but weaker relationship between Personal Distress and Perspective-taking. In regards to interactions between empathy and justice sensitivity, it is expected that there will be a positive relationship between General Empathy, and General Justice Sensitivity. It is expected that there will be a positive relationship between General Empathy and the four justice sensitivities, Victim Sensitivity, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, and Perpetrator Sensitivity. It is also expected that there will also be a positive relationship empathic concern and three of the four justice sensitivities, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity and Perpetrator Sensitivity. It is also expected that there will also be a positive relationship Perspective-taking and three of the four justice sensitivities, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary
Sensitivity and Perpetrator Sensitivity. It was expected that there would be no relationship between Empathic Concern and Victim Sensitivity, and between Perspective-taking and Victim Sensitivity. In addition, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship between Personal Distress and the four justice sensitivities, Victim Sensitivity, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, and Perpetrator Sensitivity, but that the strongest positive relationship would be between Personal Distress and Victim Sensitivity. Lastly, It is hypothesized that individuals who empathized with the father initially would result in a less harsher sentence. While those who initially empathized with the twins would result in a harsher sentence for the father.
Young adults (39 females, 83 males, Mage = 21.52, age range: 18-59) from various Psychology courses
from Irvine Valley College were recruited through their classes at the community college to complete the survey and were compensated with credit toward their class from the professors. The participants (n = 122) were asked to create an account through a third party program, the Sona System, to take the questionnaire and receive credit for their participation. Five participants data were removed from the data set due to being underaged, and an additional eight participants data were removed from the second half of the questionnaire regarding the real-life situation due to changes that needed to be made to the descriptions, resulting in their data being compromised.
Interpersonal reactivity. The Interpersonal Reactivity Inventory (IRI), consisted of twenty-eight items
that focused on the components of empathy defined as Perspective-taking, Fantasy, Empathic concern, and Personal Distress. For the purposes of this study, the Fantasy questions were included for a composite score, but were not individually analyzed. Some example items specifically looking at Perspective-taking include, “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision,” some specifically measuring Empathic Concern include, “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kinda protective towards them,” and Personal
Distress include, “Being in a tense emotional situation scares me”. In addition, eight items were reverse coded.
Justice sensitivity. To determine participants’ motivation for justice, the Justice Sensitivity was
administered, which consists of forty items, divided into four sections of ten, which all focused on the four perspectives of justice, defined as Victim Sensitivity, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, and Perpetrator Sensitivity. Some examples of the Justice Sensitivity items include the following; specifically Victim Sensitivity, “It bothers me when others receive something that ought to be mine”, an item of Observer Sensitivity was, “I am upset when when someone is undeservingly worse off than others,” an item of Beneficiary Sensitivity was “ It bothers me when things come easily to me that others have to work hard for,” and Perpetrator Sensitivity, “It gets me down when I take something from someone else that I don’t deserve.”
Case description. A real life case description about a man, Juan Rodriguez, was provided to the
participants to read and answer questions regarding who they empathized with and what they determined was the appropriate charge for the crime (see Appendix). The first questions provided was, “If he receives a charge, what do you believe would be the appropriate charge for Mr. Rodriguez?”, with the options of, “Two account of
Manslaughter (up to 15 years in prison total for both accounts)”, “Criminally Negligent Homicide (up to 5 years in prison)”, “Endangering the welfare of a child (Misdemeanor – up to 1 year in county jail)”, “A more significant charge (more than 15 years in prison)”, or “No criminal charge”. In addition, participants were also asked, “After reading the passage, with whom do you most empathize with?”, with the options of “The twins”, “The father”, or “Neither”.
This study was a correlational design. The researcher visited a variety of psychology courses to advertise
the online study with the permission of the professors. Participants completed the survey through a third-party online survey management, called Sona Systems. Participants signed up through this program where they indicated the class in which they were recruited from, in addition to their information such as their names and student ID numbers for credit allocation after they completed the survey. After signing up with the program, the participants were redirected to a Google Form that contained the informed consent, the survey, and the debriefing with contact information of the research advisor for any questions or concerns.
Relationships Within Empathy Components
The first hypothesis that there would be a positive relationship between general empathy, empathic concern
and perspective-taking was supported. Specifically, there was a stronger positive relationship between empathic concern and general empathy, r(120) = .29, p < .01. The positive relationship between general empathy and perspective-taking was significant but weaker, as expected, r(120) = .26 , p < .01. Secondly it was expected that there would be a positive relationship among personal distress, empathic concern, and perspective taking was partially supported. Specifically, the hypothesis that there would be a positive relationship between personal distress and empathic concern, r(120) = .22, p < .0. The relationship between personal distress and perspective-taking was significant but negative, not positive as hypothesized, r(120) = -.18, p < .01.
Empathy and Justice Sensitivity
In regards to interactions between empathy and justice sensitivity, the first hypothesis was supported, there
was a positive relationship between general empathy and general justice sensitivity, r(120) = .38, p < .01.
Empathy and Victim Sensitivity
The first hypothesis that victim sensitivity was positively related with general empathy was supported,
r(120) = .37, p < .01. The second hypothesis that expected victim sensitivity would not have any relationship with empathic concern and perspective-taking was also supported. Specifically between victim sensitivity and empathic concern, r(120) = .12, p = ns, and between victim sensitivity and perspective-taking, r(120) = -.14, p = ns, there was no significance. The third hypothesis, that there would be a stronger positive relationship between victim sensitivity and personal distress, than other sensitivities was supported, r(120) = .41, p < .01.
Empathy and Observer Sensitivity
First, There was a positive relationship between general empathy and observer sensitivity, r(120) = .37, p < .01. The second hypothesis expecting that the relationship between observer sensitivity and personal distress would be positive, but weaker than that of victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .24, p < .01. The third hypothesis that expected observer sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between empathic concern in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .39, p < .01. The fourth hypothesis that expected observer sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between perspective-taking in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .21, p < .01.
Empathy and Beneficiary Sensitivity
The first hypothesis that there would be a positive relationship between general empathy and beneficiary
sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .24, p < .01. The second hypothesis expecting that the relationship between beneficiary sensitivity and personal distress would be positive, but weaker than that of victim sensitivity was not supported, r(120) = .15, p = ns. There was no relationship between personal distress and beneficiary sensitivity. The third hypothesis that expected beneficiary sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between empathic concern in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .42, p < .01. The fourth hypothesis that expected beneficiary sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between perspective-taking in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .29, p < .01.
Empathy and Perpetrator Sensitivity
First, the hypothesis that there would be a positive relationship between general empathy and perpetrator
empathy was supported, r(120) = .24, p < .01.The second hypothesis expecting that the relationship between perpetrator sensitivity and personal distress would be positive, but weaker than that of victim sensitivity was not supported, r(120) = ns, p < .01. There was no relationship between personal distress and perpetrator sensitivity. The third hypothesis that expected perpetrator sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between empathic concern in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .56, p < .01. The fourth hypothesis that expected perpetrator sensitivity would have a stronger positive relationship between perspective-taking in comparison with victim sensitivity was supported, r(120) = .40, p < .01.
Differences Across Empathy Groups on the Charge Chosen
The hypothesis that expected that there would be a significant difference between those who empathized
with the twins and those who empathized with the father on the charge they chose for the father was supported, x2 (8) = 15.81, p < .05; ϕ = .37. Overall, the severity of the charge chosen by participants increased if they empathized with the twins, and decreased if they empathized with the father (see Table 2).
The purpose of the present study was to examine the role of empathy in individuals’ justice sensitivity. One
hundred and twenty-two (39 males, 83 females) participants who were enrolled in a psychology course from a Southern California community college volunteered to participate for course credit. Participants completed an online survey which took approximately 15 minutes to complete. An Empathy and Justice Sensitivity scale was used for the purposes of this study, in addition to created questions regarding a real life scenario. Empathy was defined as a construct including aspects of Perspective-Taking, Personal Distress and Empathic Concern. Justice sensitivity was investigated through four perspectives including Victim Sensitivity, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, and Perpetrator Sensitivity. The questions provided based on a written description was regarding the real-life situation of Juan Rodrigues, who is currently facing twenty years in jail for accidentally leaving his twin babies in his car that resulted in their deaths.
There were several hypotheses posed. Firstly, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship
between all components of empathy, specifically with a stronger relationship between General Empathy and Empathic Concern than with Perspective-taking. It was also hypothesized that Empathic Concern would have a stronger positive relationship with Personal Distress than Perspective-Taking. Between Empathy and Justice
Sensitivity, it was expected that there would be a positive relationship between General Empathy and General
Justice Sensitivity. In addition, it was hypothesized that there would be a positive relationship between General Empathy and all the facets of justice sensitivity, but with a weaker relationship with Victim Sensitivity. More specifically, it was also hypothesized that Perspective-Taking and Empathic Concern would have no relationship with Victim Sensitivity, but positive relationships with the three other sensitivities, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, and Perpetrator Sensitivity. It was also expected that there would be a positive relationship between Personal Distress and all the perspectives of justice sensitivity, but stronger with Victim Sensitivity specifically. In addition, it was expected that those who empathized more with the father would result in a less harsher charge than those who empathized more with the twins. Results found significance among all the components of empathy, and between most of the perspectives of justice sensitivity.The results found positive relationships between all the facets within empathy in varying degrees between Empathic Concern, and Perspective-taking as hypothesized. Personal Distress was hypothesized to have a positive relationship with Perspective-taking and Empathic Concern, with a stronger relationship with Empathic Concern, but was not supported with Perspective-taking as it resulted in a negative relationship. The hypothesis that there would be a positive relationship between General Empathy and General Justice Sensitivity was also supported. In addition the expectations regarding the relationships between empathy and the perspectives of justice sensitivity were partially supported. There was a positive relationship between General Empathy and all perspectives of justice sensitivity. There was also a positive relationship between
Empathic Concern and Perspective-Taking with all the perspective of Justice Sensitivity, except for Victim
Sensitivity, as hypothesized. The hypothesis that expected there to be a positive relationship between Personal Distress and all the perspectives of justice sensitivity was partially supported, there was no significant relationships found with Beneficiary and Perpetrator Sensitivity. In addition there was significance between those who empathized with the father or the twins and the charge they chose.
The majority of these findings were supported by prior research. Specifically, the relationships between
general empathy, empathic concern and perspective-taking. Empathic concern is described in prior research as pertaining to the emotional aspect of empathy, while perspective-taking is more involved in the cognitive component of empathy (Oliver, et al., 2018). A study conducted that compared the impact empathic concern and perspective-taking on altruistic helping, found that individuals who focused on the affective empathy instead of cognitive empathy were much more likely to help an individual (Oswald, 1996). This study explains the current results in the present study. Empathic concern and perspective-taking are both essential, but empathic concern carries more weight in general empathy, explaining the stronger relationship between empathic concern and general empathy in comparing the relationship between general empathy and perspective-taking. In the present study, empathy as investigated through the Empathy scale, is a concept made up of empathic concern, perspective-taking, and personal distress. A study found that the majority of adults when provided with two options on how to respond to a provided problem, deliberately avoided using empathy, even when it was considered the correct choice, due to its cognitive and emotional costs (Cameron, et al., 2019). As a result of this finding, and the relationship between the components of empathy, it was expected that personal distress would have a positive relationship with general empathy and its components of empathic concern and perspective-taking. The results found a positive relationship between personal distress, general empathy, and empathic concern as expected, but not perspective-taking. Personal distress is an essential role in the practice of empathy, as it can be the deciding factor for individuals on whether or not they choose to practice it. The negative relationship between personal distress and perspective-taking, may be due to it being the cognitive component of empathy, therefore would not elicit enough response from individuals to cause any distress. This can also be explained in a study conducted within a work environment that required women working to take stressful phone calls. The study found that women who practiced empathic concern were more stressed from the phone call than the women who responded by practicing perspective-taking, but did not explicitly find that there was no distress experienced at all by the women who practiced perspective-taking (Pekaar, et al., 2019).
The findings involving empathy and justice sensitivity were also partially supported. Due to the specific
nature of each separate perspective of justice sensitivity, hypotheses were created accordingly. A study conducted investigated social work students social empathy with a variety of other factors including political affiliation and stances on certain policies, finding that teaching social empathy was integral in helping students understand and advance in economic and social justice (Segal, et al., 2017). The current studies results found a positive relationship between General Empathy and General Justice Sensitivity, as expected. In addition, it was found that there was a positive relationship between general empathy and all perspectives of justice sensitivity. It was also expected that there would be a positive relationship between all the perspectives of justice sensitivity with Empathic Concern and Perspective-taking, except with victim sensitivity due to its self-oriented perspective. In addition, due to its self-oriented perspective, Victim Sensitivity was also expected to have a stronger positive relationship with Personal Distress than the other perspective. These findings were supported in this current study. Interestingly, no relationship was found between Personal Distress and Beneficiary or Perpetrator Sensitivity. Beneficiary Sensitivity is a perspective of justice that focuses on the scenario that one would benefit from other individuals misfortunes, and Perpetrator Sensitivity is a from the perspective that the participants were to be the perpetrator in situations. These results could mean that individuals simply do not experience as much personal distress if they are benefitting from the situation or are the offender themselves, in comparison to when they are the victims.
The results of participants chosen charges when comparing individuals who empathized with the father or
the twins was supported by prior research. One specific study investigated the effects of empathy manipulation on jurors decisions in the courtroom. The study involved having participants read trial transcripts involving the killing of a parent in self defense by their own child due to ongoing abuse. The findings indicated that those participants that were encouraged to take the perspective of the defendant found them less guilty of the crime, than those who were not. They also found abuse to be a more significant mitigating factor in the killing of the parents (Haegerich, 2000). These findings further explain the results of the current study that found that those who empathized with the father generally chose a lesser charge than those who empathized with the twins.
The current findings result in plenty of food for thought when considering the common practice within the American court system of an individual’s right to a jury of their peers. These findings can explain the impact that individuals’ personal practice of empathy can play in their justice sensitivities, and in turn their motivation and thought processes when making decisions, for example, as jury members. It is up for debate whether or not circumstances and environmental factors should be taken into account when a crime is committed, and if they are, to what extent should they be considered. These external factors, including the circumstances of the crime and individuals personal practices of empathy, more specifically the degree in which they practice either empathic concern or perspective-taking, can change their perspectives and methods of reasoning when confronted with a crime. These factors can possibly be eliminated to a certain extent when lawyers are provided with the opportunity to play a part in jury selection. This process involves individuals who are called for jury duty to answer a variety of questions for attorneys to determine their values and beliefs, and how they might impact the ultimate decision in the case as a juror. However, as explained in this study, an individual’s empathy is incredibly complicated and includes multiple factors and components, which are undoubtedly too difficult to determine with a round of questions. Ultimately, the way in which jury selection occurs is a controversial topic, due to the theory that attorneys are simply picking and choosing who they determine will provide them with their desired decisions. These findings can be incredibly useful in creating a conversation within the law community about the possible faults the current process of jury selection has, and the implications that individuals varying degrees of empathy can have on decisions that can range from minimal fines, multiple years in jail in the case of Juan Rodriguez, to life sentences and death penalties. In light of this current study, further research should explore more into this topic as its findings can play a significant role in opening the door to further understand the role that empathy plays in justice sensitivity, and how it could ultimately impact society through the current traditions upheld in the court systems.
This study was completed within a short period of time, resulting in a fair amount of limitations. The study
would benefit from a larger number of participants and additional information on participants, regarding their personal lives and past experiences that could be informative in further understanding their responses to the real-life situations, such as the one provided in the questionnaire.
The current study investigated the components within the concept of empathy, which is rarely discussed
due to its complicated implications for individuals’ personal and professional lives. Empathy is undoubtedly beneficial and necessary for successful and healthy relationships between partners, friends, families, peers, and even strangers. This research has uncovered additional impacts that individuals practices of empathy can have on society as a whole. Specifically within a court of law, this very personal, particular, and complicated practice needs to be taken into consideration, especially provided the practice of a jury of peers in the United States. In determining the fate of another human being, one person’s practice of empathy can influence a life changing decision, making this topic of conversation and line of research imperative to society.
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Psychology, 50 (3), 881–888. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ivc.edu/10.1037/a003432 5
Veni, R. K., Gomes, R. F. and Aurora, A. P. (2018) ‘Differences in happiness and emotional intelligence among
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Measures Means and Standard Deviations
Measures Mean Standard Deviation
General Justice Sensitivity
Perpetrator Sensitivity 3.21
Note. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index is from Davis et al. (1980). The index includes the subscales of Empathic
Concern, Perspective-taking, Personal Distress and its composite score provided the General Empathy score. The
Justice Sensitivity Inventory is from Schmitt et al. (2010). The inventory included the subscales of Victim Sensitivity, Observer Sensitivity, Beneficiary Sensitivity, Perpetrator Sensitivity, and its composite score provided the General Justice Sensitivity score.
Charges Chosen by Participants
participants empathized with
more No Charge Endangerment of a child (1 year) Criminal
(5 years) Two accounts of Manslaughter (15 years) A more
The father 21.62% 27.03% 43.24% 2.70% 5.41%
The twins 4.68% 15.63% 50% 21.88% 7.81%
Neither 15.38% 15.38% 46.15% 7.69% 15.38%
Note. The percentages represent the number of individuals within the groups that empathized with the father, the twins, or neither, and the charge they believed would be appropriate for Mr. Rodriguez.
The case description was provided for participants to read and answer provided questions regarding the real life scenario.
Juan Rodriguez is a 39-year old married man. He is an Iraq War veteran with three children. Mr. Rodriguez normally takes his 1-year old twin daughters to daycare in the morning before going to his 8-hour shift at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, in Bronx, New York. One day, there was construction on his normal path so he took an alternate route. After his shift was over, he returned to his car and discovered the bodies of his 1 year old twin daughters strapped to their car seats in temperatures reaching high 80’s. Rodriguez told police officers that he believed he had dropped them off to school before arriving to work that morning. Rodriguez distraught, told officers, “I blanked out, my babies are dead, I killed my babies.” Rodriguez’s defense attorneys told reporters that Rodriguez was beside himself and did not intend to kill his babies (“Delay in grand jury action”, 2019).