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Psychol Rep. 2010 Jun;106(3):832-44.

Are empathic abilities impaired in posttraumatic stress disorder?

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Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.


Trauma survivors with PTSD show social interaction and relationship impairments. It is hypothesized that traumatic experiences lead to known PTSD symptoms, empathic ability impairment, and difficulties in sharing affective, emotional, or cognitive states. A PTSD group (N=16) and a nontraumatized Control group (N=16) were compared on empathic abilities, namely the Empathic Resonance Test, Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, and Faux Pas Test. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index as a self-report measure of empathy and measures of non-social cognitive functions, namely the Verbal Fluency Test, the Five-Point Test, and the Stroop Test, were also administered. The PTSD group showed lower empathic resonance. No clear indications of other impairments in social cognitive functions were found. The PTSD group had significantly higher personal distress. Empathic resonance impairments did not correlate with subjective severity of PTSD symptomatology. This article discusses whether impaired empathic resonance in PTSD trauma survivors is a consequence of trauma itself or a protective coping strategy.

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