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Empathy in sexually sadistic offenders: An experimental comparison with non-sadistic sexual offenders

Joachim Nitschke, Shota Istrefi, Michael Osterheider & Andreas Mokros.

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. Volume 35, Issue 3, May–June 2012, Pages 165–167.

 

Abstract

Previous studies suggest that severe sexual sadism and psychopathy are phenotypically different, although both are characterized by deficits in emotional processing. We assessed empathic capacity in a sample of 12 sexual sadists in comparison with 23 non-sadistic offenders using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET). All participants were forensic patients under mandatory treatment orders who had committed sexual offenses. The MET is a computerized rating task that differentiates and measures cognitive and emotional components of empathy, or perspective-taking versus compassionate components. To identify the effects of possible empathy deficits caused by psychopathic traits, we controlled both samples for psychopathy as a covariate, measured by the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (PCL-R). According to our results, sexual sadists did not differ from non-sadistic sexual offenders with regard to emotional empathy for either positive or negative stimuli. The results suggest that severe sexual sadism is a distinct, pathological sexual arousal response, not a deficit in emotional processing.

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