Why does schizophrenia affect empathy?

Empathy of schizophrenic patients

Hülsmann, Anna (2008) Empathy of schizophrenic patients.
Diploma thesis, University of Vienna. Faculty of Psychology
Supervisor: Derntl, Birgit

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Abstract in German

Empathy is a multidimensional construct that consists of several components, such as emotion recognition, emotional perspective taking and affective empathy. Schizophrenic patients show deficits in various areas of emotion recognition and perspective. In the present study, empathic abilities were measured using three paradigms for measuring emotion recognition, emotional perspective acceptance and affective responsiveness. To evaluate the paradigms, 55 (28 women, 27 men) healthy people were examined. In order to record the empathic ability of 24 (12 women, 12 men) schizophrenic patients, their performance in the three paradigms and their self-assessments of their empathic abilities were compared with those of 24 healthy control subjects who were parallelized according to the age, gender and educational level of their parents. The reliability analyzes resulted in satisfactory Cronbach alphas for the three paradigms. The data analysis of the patient and control group revealed empathic deficits in the patient group, recognizable in poorer performance in all three components. A comparison of the three empathy tasks showed that taking on an emotional perspective was the most difficult task for all study participants. The empathy deficit was only partially reflected in the self-assessment questionnaires and no significant correlations could be found between the empathy tasks and the questionnaires. The latter result could be attributed to the limited validity of self-assessments of the ability to empathize. The results suggest that all empathy components are impaired in the presence of a schizophrenic illness and should therefore be treated independently in behavioral therapies in order to create the possibility of improving the psychosocial health of schizophrenic patients.

Keywords in German

Empathy / schizophrenia

Abstract in English

Empathy is a multidimensional construct consisting of several components such as emotion recognition, emotional perspective taking and affective responsiveness. Patients with schizophrenia demonstrate deficits in several domains of emotion processing and perspective taking. In the present study empathic abilities were assessed via three paradigms measuring emotion recognition, emotional perspective taking and affective responsiveness. For the evaluation of the paradigms 55 (28 females, 27 males) healthy volunteers were examined. In order to judge empathic abilities of 24 (12 females, 12 males) patients meeting the DSM-IV criteria for schizophrenia their performance in the paradigms as well as their self-reported empathic abilities were compared to 24 healthy controls matched for age, gender and parental education. Reliability analyzes were conducted and showed satisfying cronbach alphas for the three paradigms. Data analysis of the patient and control group revealed empathic deficits in patients, reflected in their worse performance in all three domains. Comparing the different tasks, emotional perspective taking was the most difficult task for all subjects. The empathy deficit was only partly reflected in the self-report questionnaires and no significant correlation between the new tasks and the self-report questionnaires could be found. This might demonstrate the limitations of self-report measures in assessing emotion processing capacities. The results suggest that all domains of empathy are affected in schizophrenia and have to be addressed independently in behavioral therapies, thereby offering a possibility to improve socio-occupational life.

Keywords in English

empathy / schizophrenia

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