Closing the empathy gap in college students' judgments of end‐of‐life tradeoffs

Joseph D. W. Stephens, Danielle S. Neal, Amy A. Overman
Published Online:
11 Nov 2013
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 49 Issue 4

Additional Options

When considering hypothetical end‐of‐life (EOL) scenarios involving 80‐year‐old intensive‐care unit patients, young adults are more likely than older adults to judge that shorter lifespan would be a fair trade in exchange for a more pleasant death. This result has been interpreted in terms of an empathy gap, in which individuals fail to relate to the affective states of others. If so, the effect should be reduced when young adults consider scenarios involving patients similar to themselves. The present study examined college students' willingness to trade healthy lifespan for better death in EOL scenarios involving 80‐year‐old and 22‐year‐old cancer victims. Results indicated students under 30 were less likely to trade lifespan in the 22‐year‐old scenarios, and were less likely to trade lifespan in either set of scenarios when the 22‐year‐old scenarios were presented first. The findings are consistent with an empathy gap account of judgments concerning EOL care.

© 2013 International Union of Psychological Science