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Empathetic boys get 1.8 more girlfriends

New study finds teenage boys who show empathy towards members of the opposite sex likely to have more female friends.

Good guys listen up, you may not always come last after all. A recent study by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University shows that empathetic boys are more likely to attract members of the opposite sex than their callous counterparts. The study is the first of its kind and examines the extent to which males and females choose their classmates based on empathetic qualities.

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A friend in need

1,970 Year 10 pupils (with an average age of 15.7 years) from schools in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, were asked to nominate five of their closest male and female friends. The students were asked if they identified with statements such as “when someone is feeling down, I can usually understand how they feel,” and “I can often understand how people are feeling even before they tell me.”

It was discovered that girls are more likely to nominate empathetic boys as friends. In fact, boys who showed that they cared and understood their peers’ feelings attracted an average of 1.8 more female friends than those that didn’t.

However, girls with empathetic qualities were shown to attract fewer male friends, potentially indicating a lack, or later development of, emotional intelligence in adolescent males when compared to their female classmates.

The friend zone

Empathy is an important quality for both males and females – especially for adolescents who are growing both physically and emotionally. “It’s well established that in addition to providing companionship, close friendships promote the development of interpersonal skills, learning, and growth,” says as lead-author Professor Joseph Ciarrochi. “Having friends has also been linked with lower rates of depression and, to people feeling good about themselves.”

Alas, it’s not stated in the study whether these friendships blossomed into loving relationships, or sadly just ended in the frustrating cul-de-sac of the friend zone.


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