Affective and cognitive empathy in conduct-disordered children : psychophysiological and cognitive underpinnings
Deficits in affective and cognitive empathy have been implicated in Conduct Disorder (CD), but empirical investigations are surrounded by inconsistencies. Three possible factors, and their interaction, may be implicated: i) distinct causal mechanisms underlying behaviour of CD subgroups (Cichetti & Moffitt, 1993); ii) distinct operation of affective and cognitive empathy; iii) overreliance on verbal measures of affective empathy whose validity has been questioned. To assess the validity of verbal measures of affective empathy, study 1 compared verbal measures with a direct index of arousal (Heart Rate-HR), in children (N=29, aged 8-10). It was hypothesised that verbal measures would not give analogous information to the direct index, and this hypothesis was supported. Therefore, the direct index of HR was employed in study 2 to compare affective empathy across three groups: i) CD elevated on Callous-Unemotional traits (CD/CU, n=31) ii) CD low on CU traits (CD/cu, n=29, aged 7.6-10. 8) iii) 'typically-developing' controls (n=33, aged 8-10). It was predicted that deficits in affective empathy would characterise only CD/CU children based on data showing emotional deficits and physiological hypoarousal in this group (Frick, et al., 1994b, Raine, et al., J990a). Results showed deficit in affective empathy to characterise only CD/CU children. CD/cu children did not show deficits in affective empathy, but they may show deficits in cognitive aspects of empathy. Study 3 compared affective and cognitive perspectivetaking across i) CD/CU (n=30, aged 7.6-10.8), ii) CD/cu (n=29, aged 7.6-10.8) and iii) 'typically-developing' controls (n=52, aged 8-10). It was predicted that CD/CU children would present deficits in affective but not cognitive perspective-taking. In contrast, CD/cu children did not show deficits in affective empathy in study 2, and other studies have shown cognitive deficits to be more specific to CD/cu children (Loney, et al. 1998). It was predicted that CD/cu children would show cognitive- but no affective perspective-taking deficits. Results showed cognitive perspective-taking deficits to be specific to CD/cu children. In contrast affective perspective-taking deficits characterised both CD groups. These preliminary findings provide evidence of a dissociation between affective and cognitive empathy in CD/CU children. These findings further indicate that neither cognitive nor affective empathy are sufficient for the inhibition of antisocial conduct.