Empathic Accuracy in Female Adolescents with Conduct Disorder and Sex Differences in the Relationship Between Conduct Disorder and Empathy

N. A. Martin-Key, G. Allison, G. Fairchild

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11 Citations (SciVal)


Research on empathy in youth with Conduct Disorder (CD) has primarily focused on males, with the few studies that have investigated empathy in females relying on questionnaire measures. Our primary aim was to investigate whether females with CD show empathy deficits when using a more ecologically-valid task. We used an empathic accuracy (EA) paradigm that involved watching videos of actors recalling emotional experiences and providing continuous ratings of emotional intensity (assessing EA), naming the emotion expressed (emotion recognition), and reporting whether they shared the emotion expressed (affective empathy). We compared 23 females with CD and 29 typically-developing (TD) adolescents aged 13–18 years. The CD sample was divided into subgroups with higher (CD/CU+) versus lower (CD/CU−) levels of callous-unemotional traits. Females with CD did not differ from TD females in EA or emotion recognition but exhibited reduced affective empathy responses (ps < 0.01, rs ≥ 0.39). The CD/CU+ and CD/CU− subgroups did not differ on any empathy measure. We also assessed for sex differences in CD-empathy associations by comparing the present data with archive data from males. CD adolescents exhibited impairments in EA relative to their TD counterparts overall (p < 0.05, ηp2 = 0.06), but there was no sex-by-diagnosis interaction. While females with CD were only impaired in affective empathy, males with CD exhibited emotion recognition and affective empathy deficits. This study demonstrates that females with CD show relatively specific impairments in affective empathy on an ecologically-valid task, whereas males with CD display more global empathic difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155-1167
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number9
Early online date2 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2020


  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Conduct disorder
  • Emotion recognition
  • Empathic accuracy
  • Empathy
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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