Empathy in online communities

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Empathy has been studied in the context of online communities as it pertains to enablers of interpersonal communication, anonymity, as well as barriers to online relationships, such as ambiguity, cyberbullying and Internet trolling. It has been found that on online health support communities members tend to exhibit higher levels of empathic concern.[1][2]

Comparison/contrast with empathy in offline environments[edit]

A number of studies have explored the importance of empathy in offline settings. For example, one study found that mindfulness and acceptance-based behavioral approaches may have potential for increasing empathy in interpersonal relationships.[3] Other work has explored the link between fiction and empathy, suggesting that the experience-taking quality of fiction may increase empathy among readers.[1][4] There is also evidence that individuals tend to more readily feel empathy for those that they view as similar to themselves.[5]

In online contexts, several researchers have pointed out that there are some key differences in how users interact online that may affect levels of empathy. For example, communication in online forum communities interact asynchronously, and are generally text-based rather than verbal communications.[6] Establishment of trust in online communities may also operate differently in online environments.[7] Furthermore, communications related interactions with others online might facilitate empathy while video or online gaming might negatively affect empathy.[8]


  • Anonymity. The anonymous nature of many online communities can allow individuals to feel more comfortable disclosing more personal information, which in turn can increase feelings of trust, connectedness and empathy.[6]
  • Shared interests. Because empathy tends to be strongest among those that share common experiences, the presence of niche online communities can set the stage for higher levels of empathy among members. [9]


  • Cyberbullying is any bullying that takes place using electronic media.[10] Studies have suggested that individuals who are bystanders, that is, witnessing someone bullying someone else, are less likely to intervene in online contexts.[11]
  • Internet trolling is "the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose." Although empirical research on trolling is limited, studies have suggested that internet trolling may be a space occupied by already-sadistic individuals who can easily disrupt conversations and communities.[12]
  • Ambiguity. Because asynchronous, text-mediated online conversations lack the richness of interaction and cues that face-to-face interaction provides, online communication tends to be much more ambiguous. This ambiguity may decrease members' abilities to find similarities in one another.[13] In both online and offline interactions, increased perceived similarity is associated with increased empathy.[9]


  1. ^ a b Djikic, Maja; Oatley, Keith; Moldoveanu, Mihnea C. (2013-01-01). "Reading other minds: Effects of literature on empathy". Scientific Study of Literature. 3 (1): 28–47. doi:10.1075/ssol.3.1.06dji. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  2. ^ Han, Jeong Yeob; Shah, Dhavan V.; Kim, Eunkyung; Namkoong, Kang; Lee, Sun-Young; Moon, Tae Joon; Cleland, Rich; Bu, Q. Lisa; McTavish, Fiona M. (February 28, 2011). "Empathic Exchanges in Online Cancer Support Groups: Distinguishing Message Expression and Reception Effects". Health Communication. 26 (2): 185–197. doi:10.1080/10410236.2010.544283. ISSN 1041-0236. PMC 3551338. PMID 21318917. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  3. ^ Block-Lerner, J; Adair, C; Plumb, JC; Rhatigan, DL; Orsillo, SM (2007). "The case for mindfulness-based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: Does nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness increase capacity for perspective-taking and empathic concern?". Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 33: 501–16. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2007.00034.x. PMID 17935532.
  4. ^ Kaufman; Libby, Geoff; LK (2012). "Changing beliefs and behavior through experience-taking" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103: 1–19. doi:10.1037/a0027525. PMID 22448888.
  5. ^ Håkansson, Jakob; Montgomery, Henry (June 1, 2003). "Empathy as an Interpersonal Phenomenon". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 20 (3): 267–284. doi:10.1177/0265407503020003001. ISSN 0265-4075. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  6. ^ a b Rice, Ronald E.; Katz, James E. (2000-11-17). The Internet and Health Communication: Experiences and Expectations. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781452264424. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  7. ^ Pfeil, Ulrike; Zaphiris, Panayiotis (2007). "Patterns of Empathy in Online Communication". Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI '07. CHI '07. ACM: 919–928. doi:10.1145/1240624.1240763. ISBN 978-1-59593-593-9. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  8. ^ Carrier, L. Mark, Spradlin, A., Bunce, J. P., & Rosen, L. D. (2015). Virtual empathy: Positive and negative effects of going online upon empathy in young adults, Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 39-48.
  9. ^ a b "(Preece J.) Etiquette, Empathy and Trust in Communities of Practice: Stepping-Stones to Social Capital". www.jucs.org. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  10. ^ "What is Cyberbullying". Stopbullying.gov. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  11. ^ "Cyberbullying among Adolescent Bystanders: Role of the Communication Medium, Form of Violence, and Empathy". Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology. 23: 37–51. doi:10.1002/casp.2137. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  12. ^ "Trolls just want to have fun". Personality and Individual Differences. 67: 97–102. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.016. Retrieved 2015-04-20.
  13. ^ "Getting to know you: Face-to-face versus online interactions". Computers in Human Behavior. 27: 153–159. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.07.017. Retrieved 2015-04-20.