Empathy is related, directly or indirectly, to important elements in criminology such as the enactment of harsh penalties for repeat offenders, antisocial behavior, feelings of legitimacy toward the law, and attitudes toward the death penalty. Although empathy is beginning to find its way into criminological discourse, it is still not well understood nor often incorporated into quantitative research. This is likely due to issues regarding the conceptualization and measurement of empathy as well as the lack of measures of empathy incorporated into contemporary data sets.
This study discusses the importance of empathy for criminology and uses a set of research examples to exemplify the relationships between empathy and outcomes important to criminology. Empathy emerges as an important predictor of criminal behavior, support for harsh laws, and perceptions of police effectiveness. Future research should incorporate measures of empathy when seeking to understand individual feelings and behaviors as they relate to important facets of criminology and criminal justice.