Having empathy makes a man more attractive, says a study published online on May 13 in the Journal of Personality. The Australian Catholic University researchers cite that adolescent boys with empathy have 1.8 percent more female friends on the average than adolescent boys with low empathy.

However, empathy, which means the ability to understand other people’s emotions, does not seem to help girls. The team also found that empathetic girls did not attract more friends from the opposite sex unlike the empathetic boys.

“The more friendship nominations a boy received from either boys or girls, the more they felt supported by their friends; the number of friendship nominations received by girls,” says lead researcher Joseph Ciarrochi. “In contrast, had no effect on their felt support by friends. Regardless of the quantity of friendship nominations, empathy was linked to more supportive friendships for both males and females.”


Boys high in cognitive empathy have more female friends. Credit: Giorgio Magini / Fotolia / ScienceDaily

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the landmark study investigated 1,970 Year 10 adolescent boys and girls in Queensland and New South Wales in Australia, with the average age of 15.7 years. The students were asked to nominate five of their closest male and female friends using the “Friendship Subscale” from the Social Support Scale.

“Friends are essential to positive adolescent development. It’s well established that in addition to providing companionship, close friendships promote the development of interpersonal skills, learning, and growth,” adds Ciarrochi. “Having friends has also been linked with lower rates of depression and, to people feeling good about themselves.”

The findings do not simply show how empathy leads to popularity. These show that having empathy leads to better relationships with peers, which can affect people positively. Teaching kids how to be more empathetic is crucial to their overall well-being.

“This research suggests it is critical to identify and teach young people the skills they need to develop supportive friendships. To that end,” concludes Ciarrochi. “Our study provides a contextual understanding of the role of empathy in selecting and maintaining friendships.”