Sara Konrath, Ed O'Brien and Linda Hagen all of the University of Michigan, Daniel Gruhn at North Carolina State University analyzed data on 75,000 U.S. adults from three separate large samples of American adults, two from the nationally representative General Social Survey.
"Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured," Konrath said in a statement. "They reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others."
The study, scheduled to be published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences, found consistent evidence of an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more.
Earlier research by O'Brien, Konrath and colleagues found declines in empathy and higher levels of narcissism among young people today as compared to earlier generations of young adults.
More research is needed in order to understand whether this pattern is really the result of an individual's age, or whether it is a generational effect reflecting the socialization of adults who are now in late middle age, the study said.