Empathy is often thought to occur automatically. Yet, empathy frequently breaks down when it is difficult or distressing to relate to people in need, suggesting that empathy is often not felt reflexively.
Indeed, the United States as a whole is said to be displaying an empathy deficit. When and why does empathy break down, and what predicts whether people will exert effort to experience empathy in challenging contexts?
Across 7 studies, we found that people who held a malleable mindset about empathy (believing empathy can be developed) expended greater empathic effort in challenging contexts than did people who held a fixed theory (believing empathy cannot be developed).