Characterising the components of empathy: Implications for models of autism

  • Laurie Batchelder

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Empathy is vital for relationships in the social world. Although definitions vary, theory and research has delineated empathy into cognitive and affective components. Recent ideas propose there are further aspects that are important to empathy, such as the ability versus the drive to empathise within both the cognitive and affective components. Various self-report indexes have been developed to measure empathy, yet current measures do not reflect all theories about empathy. The aim of this thesis was to develop and validate a new empathy questionnaire that included further components more consistent with recent ideas and theories about empathy. This thesis further aimed to use this questionnaire to investigate the components of empathy in autism, which is characterised in part by empathy deficits.The first study investigated the structure of empathy in the commonly-used Empathy Quotient (EQ) short-form to examine which empathy components it indexes. Results showed cognitive, affective and social skill components were extracted from the EQ-short, but also revealed ability and drive aspects captured within affective empathy but not within cognitive empathy components. This suggested items of the EQ-short incorporates some, but not all, components proposed to be important to empathy. Consequently, a new self-report empathy questionnaire called the Empathy Components Questionnaire (ECQ) was developed in order to fully capture all components of empathy. A five-factor solution was developed and confirmed for the ECQ across multiple independent samples in studies two through five, revealing five components of cognitive ability, cognitive drive, affective ability, affective drive, and affective reactivity. A final study revealed individuals with autism had lower self-reported cognitive empathy, affective drive and affective reactivity compared to controls, but comparable scores between groups for affective ability. This thesis produced a new measure of empathy more in-line with recent theories, which provided understanding about empathy and how it differs in autism.
Date of Award23 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris Ashwin (Supervisor) & Mark Brosnan (Supervisor)


  • Empathy
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • questionnaires

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