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Evaluating the Relation Between Psychopathy and Affective Empathy: Two Preliminary Studies

David A. Lishner, Michael J. Vitacco, Phan Y. Hong, Jennifer Mosley, Kathryn Miska & Eric L. Stocks.

International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology;

December 2012, vol. 56, no. 8, 1161-1181.



It is widely believed that impairment in an ability to experience affective empathy for others is a central feature of psychopathy. The authors tested this assumption by covertly manipulating and measuring state experiences of emotional contagion and empathic concern in college undergraduates and male forensic inpatients. Surprisingly, they found little evidence of a negative association between psychopathy and affective empathy in either sample. In those instances in which associations were found, they tended to indicate that higher psychopathy was associated with increased affective empathy. Follow-up analyses also revealed that psychopathy was positively associated with pervasive experiences of sadness, anger, and fear, and negatively associated with pervasive experiences of happiness among nonforensic individuals. This research raises questions about existing conceptualizations of interpersonal affect in psychopathy and offers suggestions for advancing future understanding of the role-played by emotional processes in psychopathy.




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