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Child Abuse Negl. 2003 Jul;27(7):769-80.

Dispositional empathy in high- and low-risk parents for child physical abuse.

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Facultad de Psicologia, University of the Basque Country, PO Box 726, 20080 San Sebastian, Spain.



The present study was designed to investigate dispositional empathy in high-risk parents for child physical abuse, using self-report instruments. More specifically, the objective was to know if high-risk parents for child physical abuse, in comparison with low-risk parents, show deficits on main dimensions of dispositional empathy: empathic concern, role-taking, and personal distress.


Based on their scores on the Abuse Scale of the CAP Inventory (Milner, 1986), 36 high-risk and 38 low-risk for child physical abuse participants were selected from a total sample of 440 Basque Country (Spain) general population parents. Both groups were statistically matched on sociodemographic variables. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI, Davis, 1980), the Hogan Empathy Scale (HES, Hogan, 1969) and the Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy (QMEE, Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972) were used to assess dispositional empathy.


As expected, high-risk, relative to low-risk, parents showed lower total scores on the HES and QMEE measures and lower scores on the IRI "Empathic concern" dimension. Moreover, high-risk, relative to low-risk, parents showed higher scores on the IRI "Personal distress" dimension. No differences between groups were observed for the IRI "Perspective-taking" dimension.


Findings of the present study supported the hypothesis that high-risk parents for child physical abuse show a deficit in dispositional empathy. High-risk parents reported less feelings of warmth, compassion and concern for others and more feelings of anxiety and discomfort that result from observing another's negative experience.

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