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Standing in Others' Shoes: Empathy and Positional Behavior

Journal article
Authors Alpaslan Akay
G. Karabulut
B. Terzioglu
Published in Frontiers in Psychology
Volume 10
Pages 15
ISSN 1664-1078
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Economics
Pages 15
Language en
Keywords dispositional empathy, survey experiments, positional concerns, utility, subjective well-being, affective consequences, relative income, satisfaction, emotions, reliability, competition, responses, happiness, altruism, fairness, Psychology
Subject categories Economics


Studies show that people are concerned with other people's consumption position in a varying degree with respect to the type of goods consumed and individual characteristics. Using both survey experiments and a large survey of subjective well-being (SWB) dataset, this paper aims to investigate the association between the degree of empathic capacity and positional concerns for consumption items involving pleasure and pain. The paper exploits both empathy quotient (EQ) and interpersonal reactivity index (IRI) measures of empathic capacity, i.e., dispositional empathy, which are sufficient measures capturing affective and cognitive aspects of empathy. Positional concerns are identified directly using a series of stated choice experiments and indirectly using the SWB approach. The main result of the paper is that positional concerns vary substantially with the levels of empathic capacity. Both EQ and IRI are found to be positively associated with positional concerns for "goods" (e.g., after-tax income, market value of a luxury car), reflecting a degree of self-regarded feelings and behavior to reduce personal distress, and negatively associated with positional concerns for "bads" (e.g., working hours and poverty rates), reflecting a degree of other-regarding feelings and behavior. The results are robust with respect to various checks including statistical specifications, reference groups, and omitted variables (e.g., prosocial behavior and competitivity) that could bias the results.

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