Current Psychology

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 165–176 | Cite as

Cognitive Empathy in Intercultural Interactions: The Roles of Lay Theories of Multiculturalism and Polyculturalism

  • Maria Guadalupe C. Salanga
  • Allan B. I. BernardoEmail author


The intergroup lay theories of polyculturalism and multiculturalism have been hypothesized to play an important role in facilitating better intergroup relations. In two studies, we investigate the consequences of polyculturalism and multiculturalism on participants’ cognitive empathy for actors in a hypothetical intercultural interaction. Study 1 involves a scenario with Korean student experiencing language difficulties in the classroom and a Filipino professor who willingly provided assistance. Study 2 involves the same scenario but with a Filipino professor who declines to extend help to the Korean student. Hierarchical regression analyses reveal that multiculturalism predicts cognitive empathy for the Korean student in Study 1 and polyculturalism predicts cognitive empathy for the professor in both studies. The findings provide support for the role of lay theories of culture and its impact on cognitions about groups, and more importantly, for the distinct relationships between the two lay theories that emphasize either cultural differences or cultural connections.


Cognitive empathy Multiculturalism Polyculturalism Lay theories Intercultural relations 



This research was supported by a Multiyear Research Grant awarded to the second author by the Research Development and Administration Office of the University of Macau (Grant No. MYRG-2014-00098-FSS). We thank Andrei Maghirang, Jana Patricia Victor, Jesus Datu, and Zyra Evangelista for their valuable assistance at various points of the research process.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The research study reported in this manuscript was reviewed and evaluated by the Research Ethics Committee of the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Macau. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

All participants included the study provided their informed consent prior to responding to any part of the research questionnaire.


  1. Andrighetto, L., Baldissarri, C., Lattanzio, S., Loughnan, S., & Volpato, C. (2014). Humanitarian aid? Two forms of dehumanization and willingness to help after natural disasters. British Journal of Social Psychology, 53, 573–584.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ang, R. P., & Goh, D. H. (2010). Cyberbullying among adolescents: The role of affective and cognitive empathy, and gender. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 41(4), 387–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batson, C. D., & Ahmad, N. Y. (2009). Using empathy to improve intergroup attitudes and relations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 141–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batson, C. D., & Shaw, L. L. (1991). Evidence for altruism: Toward a pluralism of prosocial motives. Psychological Inquiry, 2, 107–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernardo, A. B. I. (2007). Language in Philippine education: Rethinking old fallacies, exploring new alternatives amidst globalization. In T. R. F. Tupas (ed) (Re)making society: The politics of language, discourse and identity in the Philippines (pp 1-26). Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippine Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bernardo, A. B. I., Rosenthal, L., & Levy, S. R. (2013). Polyculturalism and attitudes towards people from other countries. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 37, 335–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernardo, A. B. I., Salanga, M. G. C., Tjipto, S., Hutapea, B., Yeung, S. S., & Khan, A. (2016). Contrasting lay theories of polyculturalism and multiculturalism: Associations with essentialist beliefs of race in six Asian cultural groups. Cross-Cultural Research, 50, 231–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Betancourt, H. (1990). An attribution-empathy model of helping behavior: Behavioral intentions and judgments of help-giving. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16(3), 573–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bilewicz, M. (2009). Perspective taking and intergroup helping intentions: The moderating role of power relations. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39(12), 2779–2786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bureau of Immigration (2014). Koreans dominate foreign student admissions at Philippine universities. Retrieved from
  11. Čehajić, S., Brown, R., & Castano, E. (2008). Forgive and forget? Antecedents and consequences of intergroup forgiveness in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Political Psychology, 29, 351–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Čehajić, S., Brown, R., & Gonzalez, R. (2009). What do I care? Perceived ingroup responsibility and dehumanization as predictors of empathy felt for the victim group. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 12, 715–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chao, M. M., & Kung, F. Y. (2015). An essentialism perspective on intercultural processes. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 18(2), 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chao, M. M., Hong, Y., & Chiu, C. (2013). Essentializing race: Its implications on racial categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 619–634.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chao, M. M., Kung, F. Y., & Yao, D. J. (2015). Understanding the divergent effects of multicultural exposure. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 47, 78–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cho, J., Morris, M., & Dow, B. (2017a). How do the romans feel when visitors' do as the romans do'? Diversity ideologies and trust in evaluations of cultural accommodation. Academy of Management Discoveries. Published online January 30, 2017. doi: 10.5465/amd.2016.0044.
  17. Cho, J., Morris, M. W., Slepian, M. L., & Tadmor, C. T. (2017b). Choosing fusion: The effects of diversity ideologies on preference for culturally mixed experiences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 163–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cikara, M., Bruneau, E. G., & Saxe, R. R. (2011). Us and them: Intergroup failures of empathy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 149–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cikara, M., Bruneau, E., Van Bavel, J. J., & Saxe, R. (2014). Their pain gives us pleasure: How intergroup dynamics shape empathic failures and counter-empathic responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 110–125.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cohen, D., & Strayer, J. (1996). Empathy in conduct-disordered and comparison youth. Developmental Psychology, 32(6), 988–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cuddy, A. J., Rock, M. S., & Norton, M. I. (2007). Aid in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina: Inferences of secondary emotions and intergroup helping. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 10, 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dweck, C., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit theories and their role in judgments and reactions: A world from two perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eisenberg, N., & Miller, P. A. (1987). The relation of empathy to prosocial and related behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 101(1), 91–119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Eisenberg, N., Eggum, N. D., & Di Giunta, L. (2010). Empathy-related responding: Associations with prosocial behavior, aggression, and intergroup relations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 4, 143–180.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Finlay, K. A., & Stephan, W. G. (2000). Improving intergroup relations: The effects of empathy on racial attitudes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1720–1737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Haslam, N., Bastian, B., Bain, P., & Kashima, Y. (2006). Psychological essentialism, implicit theories, and intergroup relations. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9(1), 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hong, Y. Y., Levy, S. R., & Chiu, C. Y. (2001). The contribution of the lay theories approach to the study of groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(2), 98–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hong, Y. Y., Coleman, J., Chan, G., Wong, R. Y., Chiu, C. Y., Hansen, I. G., et al. (2004). Predicting intergroup bias: The interactive effects of implicit theory and social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(8), 1035–1047.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jayaratne, T. E., Ybarra, O., Sheldon, J. P., Brown, T. N., Feldbaum, M., Pfeffer, C. A., & Petty, E. M. (2006). White Americans’ genetic lay theories of race differences and sexual orientation: Their relationship with prejudice toward blacks, and gay men and lesbians. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 9, 77–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Karafantis, D. M., & Levy, S. R. (2004). The role of children’s lay theories about the malleability of human attributes in beliefs about and volunteering for disadvantaged groups. Child Development, 75, 236–250.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Keller, J. (2005). In genes we trust: The biological component of psychological essentialism and its relationship to mechanisms of motivated social cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 686–702.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Knowles, M. L. (2014). Social rejection increases perspective taking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 126–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levy, S. R., Stroessner, S. J., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Stereotype formation and endorsement: The role of implicit theories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1421–1426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Levy, S. R., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (2006a). Lay theories and intergroup relations. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9, 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levy, S. R., West, T. L., Ramírez, L., & Karafantis, D. M. (2006b). The Protestant work ethic: A lay theory with dual intergroup implications. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9(1), 95–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mackie, D. M., Smith, E. R., & Ray, D. G. (2008). Intergroup emotions and intergroup relations. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(5), 1866–1880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Marjanovic, Z., Struthers, C. W., & Greenglass, E. R. (2012). Who helps natural-disaster victims? Assessment of trait and situational predictors. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 12, 245–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Masten, C. L., Morelli, S. A., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2011). An fMRI investigation for empathy for “social pain” and subsequent prosocial behavior. NeuroImage, 55, 381–388.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McDaniel, B. L., Grice, J. W., & Eason, E. A. (2010). Seeking a multi-construct model of morality. Journal of Moral Education, 39, 37–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Metila, R. A., Pradilla, L. A. S., & Williams, A. B. (2016). The challenge of implementing mother tongue education in linguistically diverse contexts: The case of the Philippines. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 25(5–6), 781–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Morris, M. W., Chiu, C., & Liu, Z. (2015). Polycultural psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 631–659.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Neumann, D. L., Chan, R. C., Wang, Y., & Boyle, G. J. (2016). Cognitive and affective components of empathy and their relationship with personality dimensions in a Chinese sample. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19, 244–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. No, S., Hong, Y., Liao, H., Lee, K., Wood, D., & Chao, M. (2008). Lay theory of race affects and moderates Asian Americans’ responses toward American culture. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 991–1004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. O’Brien, E., Konrath, S. H., Grühn, D., & Hagen, A. L. (2013). Empathic concern and perspective taking: Linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult life span. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(2), 168–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pavey, L., Greitemeyer, T., & Sparks, P. (2012). “I help because I want to, not because you tell me to”: Empathy increases autonomously motivated helping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 681–689.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pedersen, A., & Hartley, L. K. (2015). Can we make a difference? Prejudice towards asylum seekers in Australia and the effectiveness of antiprejudice interventions. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, 9(01), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pedersen, A., Paradies, Y., & Barndon, A. (2015). The consequences of intergroup ideologies and prejudice control for discrimination and harmony. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(12), 684–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Plaks, J. E., Levy, S. R., & Dweck, C. S. (2009). Lay theories of personality: Cornerstones of meaning in social cognition. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Preston, S. D., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Grabowski, T. J., Stansfield, R. B., Mehta, S., & Damasio, A. R. (2007). The neural substrates of cognitive empathy. Social Neuroscience, 2, 254–275.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rattan, A., & Ambady, N. (2013). Diversity ideologies and intergroup relations: An examination of colorblindness and multiculturalism. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 12–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Richeson, J. A., & Nussbaum, R. J. (2004). The impact of multiculturalism versus color-blindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 417–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rosenthal, L., & Levy, S. R. (2010). The colorblind, multicultural, and polycultural: Ideological approaches to improving intergroup attitudes and relations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 4, 215–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rosenthal, L., & Levy, S. R. (2012). The relation between polyculturalism and intergroup attitudes among racially and ethnically diverse adults. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 18, 1–16.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rosenthal, L., & Levy, S. R. (2013). Thinking about mutual influences and connections across cultures relates to more positive intergroup attitudes: An examination of polyculturalism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(8), 547–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rosenthal, L., & Levy, S. R. (2016). Endorsement of polyculturalism predicts increased positive intergroup contact and friendship across the beginning of college. Journal of Social Issues, 72(3), 472–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., & Moyer, A. (2011). Protestant work ethic's relation to intergroup and policy attitudes: A meta-analytic review. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(7), 874–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., & Moss, I. (2012). Polyculturalism and openness about criticizing one’s culture: Implications for sexual prejudice. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15(2), 149–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., & Militano, M. (2014). Polyculturalism and sexist attitudes believing cultures are dynamic relates to lower sexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(4), 519–534.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., Katser, M., & Bazile, C. (2015). Polyculturalism and attitudes toward Muslim Americans. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 21, 535–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rueckert, L., & Naybar, N. (2008). Gender differences in empathy: The role of the right hemisphere. Brain and Cognition, 67(2), 162–167.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ryan, C. S., Casas, J. F., & Thompson, B. K. (2010). Interethnic ideology, intergroup perceptions, and cultural orientation. Journal of Social Issues, 66, 29–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schwenck, C., Göhle, B., Hauf, J., Warnke, A., Freitag, C. M., & Schneider, W. (2014). Cognitive and emotional empathy in typically developing children: The influence of age, gender, and intelligence. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 11(1), 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shen, L. (2010). On a scale of state empathy during message processing. Western Journal of Communication, 74, 504–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shih, M., Wang, E., Bucher, A. T., & Stotzer, R. (2009). Perspective taking: Reducing prejudice towards general outgroups and specific individuals. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 12, 565–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stephan, W. G., & Finlay, K. (1999). The role of empathy in improving intergroup relations. Journal of Social Issues, 55, 729–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tsukamoto, S., Enright, J., & Karasawa, M. (2013). Psychological essentialism and nationalism as determinants of interethnic bias. The Journal of Social Psychology, 153(5), 515–519.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tullett, A. M., & Plaks, J. E. (2016). Testing the link between empathy and lay theories of happiness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 1505–1521.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tupas, R. (2015). Inequalities of multilingualism: Challenges to mother tongue-based multilingual education. Language and Education, 29(2), 112–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Van der Graaff, J., Branje, S. T. J., de Wied, M., Hawk, S. T., van Lier, P. A. C., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2014). Perspective taking and empathic concern in adolescence: Gender differences in developmental changes. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 881–888.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Vorauer, J. D., Gagnon, A., & Sasaki, S. J. (2009). Salient intergroup ideology and intergroup interaction. Psychological Science, 20(7), 838–845.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Weiner, B. (1980). A cognitive (attribution)-emotion-action model of motivated behavior: An analysis of judgments of help-giving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 186–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Williams, H. M., Parker, S. K., & Turner, N. (2007). Perceived dissimilarity and perspective taking within work teams. Group & Organization Management, 32(5), 569–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wolsko, C., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2000). Framing interethnic ideology: Effects of multicultural and color-blind perspectives on judgments of groups and individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 536–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wolsko, C., Park, B., & Judd, C. M. (2006). Considering the tower of babel: Correlates of assimilation and multiculturalism among ethnic minority and majority groups in the United States. Social Justice Research, 19(3), 277–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, College of Liberal ArtsDe La Salle UniversityManilaPhilippines
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, E21-3060 Humanities and Social Sciences BuildingUniversity of MacauTaipaMacau

Personalised recommendations