People with low levels of self-worth and anxiety tend to have lower levels of empathy, according to a new paper from the University of Michigan and Penn State University.
A study published online in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science , found that people with lower self-confidence are more likely to believe that others are judging them unfairly.
Researchers found that while people with higher self-confidence reported more empathy, they were less likely to feel empathy toward people who were perceived as less competent.
People with higher levels of narcissism, a negative trait linked to low self -esteem, were more likely than people with high levels of confidence to be negative toward others.
Researchers said the findings may explain why people with less self-control may be more likely in some situations to be less trusting.
The findings come as research suggests people with more negative attitudes towards others may be less likely than others to seek help from social support services.
The paper, by Penn State professor Dr. Richard L. Zaslavsky, and graduate students Stephanie C. Pappas, Rachel L. Lutz and Tanya D. Miller, looked at data from a nationally representative sample of 1,071 people who participated in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey.
Participants were asked about their self-rated well-being, and were then asked to rate their level of empathy for themselves and others.
Participants who rated themselves as higher in the scale of self confidence were more than three times as likely as those with lower levels to say they felt empathy for others.
The researchers found that self-reported empathy levels tended to be higher for people who reported being high in narcissism and self-proclaimed lower in confidence.
Self-rated self-efficacy, a measure of how people perceive their own competence, also appeared to be positively associated with empathy levels.
People who self-identified as having high self-belief were also more likely as a group to report empathy for those they judged as less capable.
Researchers also found that participants with high self esteem were more willing to make generous donations to charity, with nearly half of those with high confidence saying they would give more than $10,000.
A similar pattern was found for self-described lower self confidence, with those with higher confidence reporting more generous giving.
The study authors said they plan to conduct future research on how people’s feelings about themselves and the world affect how they respond to various interventions, including those designed to reduce negative attitudes and behaviors.