Relationship between empathy and personality traits in students of a Public Sector Medical University

  • Naeem Liaqat
  • Maria Ata
  • Nida -e- Haider
Keywords: Big Five; Personality; Empathy; Medical students; Pakistan


Introduction: Empathy among medical students and doctors, is rather unexplored part of medical flora and fauna which may vary with each personality.

Objective: to determine the correlation between empathy and personality traits of final year medical students.

Materials and Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted at Rawalpindi Medical University, Pakistan. A total of 144 medical students were included in the study. For personality traits assessment and empathy assessment, Big Five Inventory and Interpersonal Reactivity Index were used. All the data was analyzed using SPSS version 20.

Results: The mean score for empathy scale was found to be 61.25 ± 10.0. Females were more empathetic than males in all subscales but pointedly so in empathetic concern scale. Overall empathy scale was strongly correlated with Agreeableness and Neuroticism (P<0.001). Perspective taking scale was positively related with Agreeableness and openness, Empathy concern scale was positively related with Agreeableness, and Personal Distress was positively related with Conscientiousness and Neuroticism. The demographic factors of age and gender explained only 1.7%, 6.8%, 2.4% and 2.0% of the variance in the four scales of empathy. After adjustment for age and gender, perspective taking was positively associated with Agreeableness and Openness and Personal distress was associated with Agreeableness, Neuroticism and Openness.


We conclude that personality traits have a substantial correlation with empathy and its subscales. So we need to evaluate the personality of a medical student and tailor a set of rules for each individual consistent with their persona to develop empathy in them.


1. Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S. The empathy quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. J Autism Dev Disord. 2004;34(2):163-75.
2. Ha JF, Longnecker N. Doctor-patient communication: a review. Ochsner J. 2010;10(1):38-43.
3. Bertram K, Randazzo J, Alabi N, Levenson J, Doucette JT, Barbosa P. Strong correlations between empathy, emotional intelligence, and personality traits among podiatric medical students: A cross-sectional study. Educ Health (Abingdon). 2016;29(3):186-94.
4. Hojat M, Vergare MJ, Maxwell K, Brainard G, Herrine SK, Isenberg GA, et al. The devil is in the third year: a longitudinal study of erosion of empathy in medical school. Acad Med. 2009;84(9):1182-91.
5. Magalhaes E, Costa P, Costa MJ. Empathy of medical students and personality: evidence from the Five-Factor Model. Med Teach. 2012;34(10):807-12.
6. Lourinho I, Severo M. Are personality traits really weak/moderate predictors of empathy? Medical teacher. 2013;35(7):611.
7. Ayub A, Khan RA. Measuring empathy of medical students studying different curricula; a causal comparative study. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67(8):1238-41.
8. Tariq N, Rasheed T, Tavakol M. A quantitative study of empathy in Pakistani medical students: A multicentered approach. Journal of primary care & community health. 2017:2150131917716233.
9. Barrio Vd, Aluja A, García LF. Relationship between empathy and the Big Five personality traits in a sample of Spanish adolescents. Soc Behav Personal. 2004;32(7):677-81.
10. Davis MH. A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology. 1980;10:85.
11. Mooradian TA, Davis M, Matzler K. Dispositional empathy and the hierarchical structure of personality. Am J Psychol. 2011;124(1):99-109.
12. Song Y, Shi M. Associations between empathy and big five personality traits among Chinese undergraduate medical students. PloS one. 2017;12(2):e0171665.
13. Toto RL, Man L, Blatt B, Simmens SJ, Greenberg L. Do empathy, perspective-taking, sense of power and personality differ across undergraduate education and are they inter-related? Advances in health sciences education : theory and practice. 2015;20(1):23-31.
14. Melchers MC, Li M, Haas BW, Reuter M, Bischoff L, Montag C. Similar personality patterns are associated with empathy in four different countries. Frontiers in psychology. 2016;7:290.
15. Bratek A, Bulska W, Bonk M, Seweryn M, Krysta K. Empathy among physicians, medical students and candidates. Psychiatria Danubina. 2015;27 Suppl 1:S48-52.
16. Chen DC, Kirshenbaum DS, Yan J, Kirshenbaum E, Aseltine RH. Characterizing changes in student empathy throughout medical school. Medical teacher. 2012;34(4):305-11.
17. Wen D, Ma X, Li H, Liu Z, Xian B, Liu Y. Empathy in Chinese medical students: psychometric characteristics and differences by gender and year of medical education. BMC medical education. 2013;13:130.
18. Shariat SV, Habibi M. Empathy in Iranian medical students: measurement model of the Jefferson scale of empathy. Medical teacher. 2013;35(1):e913-8.
19. Lee BK, Bahn GH, Lee WH, Park JH, Yoon TY, Baek SB. The Relationship between Empathy and Medical Education System, Grades, and Personality in Medical College Students and Medical School Students. Korean journal of medical education. 2009;21(2):117-24.
20. Austin EJ, Evans P, Magnus B, O'Hanlon K. A preliminary study of empathy, emotional intelligence and examination performance in MBChB students. Medical education. 2007;41(7):684-9.
21. Fitness J, Curtis M. Emotional intelligence and the Trait Meta-Mood Scale: Relationships with empathy, attributional complexity, self-control, and responses to interpersonal conflict. Sensoria: A Journal of Mind, Brain & Culture. 2005;1(1):50-62.
22. Cassels TG, Chan S, Chung W. The role of culture in affective empathy: Cultural and bicultural differences. Journal of Cognition and Culture. 2010;10(3):309-26.
How to Cite
Liaqat N, Ata M, Haider N. Relationship between empathy and personality traits in students of a Public Sector Medical University. JRMC [Internet]. 30Jun.2022 [cited 24Sep.2022];26(2):185-9. Available from: