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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Aug;46(8):867-80.

Empathy in boys with disruptive behavior disorders.

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  • 1Department of Child and Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.



The present study examined empathy in 8- to 12-year-old clinically referred boys with disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) (n=25) and age-matched normal controls (n=24).


Situational empathy was assessed by children's emotional and cognitive responses to six empathy-inducing vignettes (displaying sadness, anger or happiness). Dispositional affective empathy was measured by a self-report questionnaire for children.


In line with predictions, results revealed deficits in dispositional and situational empathy among DBD boys, and inverse relationships between both empathy measures and parent-reports of aggressive/disruptive behavior among all children. The study also explored whether DBD boys are less responsive to just any emotion, or to specific emotions. Compared to normal controls, DBD boys responded less empathically to sadness and anger, but equally empathically to happiness. In addition, while DBD boys responded less empathically than the normal controls to each and every sadness vignette, they did not show equally low levels of empathic responses to all sadness vignettes.


These findings suggest that situational factors may be involved in DBD boys' reduced responsiveness to another person's sadness.

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