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Empathy and offending: a systematic review and meta-analysis

By Darrick Jolliffe and David P. Farrington


The purpose of this paper is to report the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies relating measures of cognitive and affective empathy to offending. It was possible to calculate a common measure of effect size (the standardized mean difference) in 35 studies, 21 of cognitive empathy and 14 of affective empathy. Low cognitive empathy was strongly related to offending, while low affective empathy was weakly related to offending. The Hogan Empathy Scale and the Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy produced stronger relationships with offending than the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. The relationship between low empathy and offending was relatively strong for violent offenders, but relatively weak for sex offenders. This relationship was stronger for younger people than for older people. The relationship between low empathy and offending disappeared after controlling for intelligence and SES. More research is needed to investigate the causal links between low SES, low intelligence, low empathy, and offending. Better measures of empathy are needed, and empathy and offending need to be measured using self-reports in prospective longitudinal studies

Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.avb.2003.03.001
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