The Impact of Empathy: Explaining Diversity in Street-Level Decision-Making

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This article investigates whether the empathic abilities of street-level bureaucrats have an impact on their discretionary decision-making. The impact of empathic abilities on decision-making is considered an important research question, as our knowledge remains limited as to the importance of personal ability on decisions. The article further contributes to the field of street-level bureaucracy by conducting a discrete choice experiment, an approach highly suitable for examining discretionary decision-making. The article draws on nationally representative survey data from 268 employees in correctional facilities in Denmark, with a 67.5% response rate. The findings confirm that discretionary decision-making is affected by the empathic abilities of bureaucrats. However, the impact of empathy depends on the severity of inmates' infringement against the rules. In essence, the findings demonstrate that personal abilities may advantageously be incorporated into further studies as an important determinant of street-level behavior.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)433-449
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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