The issue of gender differences in empathy is quite controversial. It is often believed that females are more empathic than males. Evidence for gender differences in empathy are important for self-report questionnaires of empathy in which it is obvious what was being indexed (e.g., impact of social desirability and gender stereotypes) but are smaller or nonexistent for other types of indexes that are less self-evident with regard to their purpose. On average female subjects score higher than males on the Empathy Quotient (EQ), while males tend to score higher on the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).
Both males and females with Autistic Spectrum Disorders usually score higher on the SQ (Baron-Cohen, 2003). However, a series of recent studies, using a variety of neurophysiological measures, including MEG, spinal reflex excitability, and electroencephalography have documented the presence of a gender difference in the human mirror neuron system, with female participants exhibiting stronger motor resonance than male participants. In addition, these aforementioned studies found that female participants scored higher on empathy self-report dispositional measures and that these measures positively correlated with the physiological response. However, other studies show that women do not possess greater empathic abilities than men, and perceived gender differences are the result of motivational differences. Using fMRI, neuroscientist Tania Singer showed that empathy-related neural responses are significantly lower in males when observing an "unfair" person experiencing pain.
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