Empathy dysfunction in children and adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders.

Research Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.
European journal of pharmacology (Impact Factor: 2.59). 10/2009; 626(1):97-103. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2009.10.016
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In this essay, we focus on empathy in children and adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders (DBD), based on the assumption that lack of empathy is a risk factor for the development of DBD. We reflect on the heterogeneity of DBD, the complex nature of the empathy construct, discuss empathy's role in aggression, and review recent findings from studies on empathic skills in children and adolescents with DBD. Research suggests that the mechanisms underlying empathy problems may be different for DBD subtypes. Individuals with psychopathic tendencies may show a selective impairment in empathy with sadness and fear due to abnormalities in neural circuits connected with the amygdala. Individuals without these tendencies may show little empathy for a variety of reasons, such as hostile attributions, anxiety and/or poor regulatory skills. Understanding more about the nature and causes of empathy dysfunction in DBD could aid in identifying subtypes and help to improve prevention and intervention programs. Suggestions for future research are made.

1 Bookmark
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) show impairments in social functioning. However, the factors underlying these impairments are poorly understood. Recent evidence has shown that social problem solving is a critical component of effective social functioning. The present study sought to examine social information processing as one potential factor contributing to social skills and behavior impairments observed in children with FASD. Forty-three children, 20 with FASD (mean age 12.6 years) and 23 typically developing controls (TDC; mean age 12.5 years) were studied. Social information processing was investigated using the Children's Interpersonal Problem Solving task (ChIPS; Shure and Spivack, 1985), which assesses problem solving in response to social dilemmas. Children with FASD produced fewer relevant responses than TDC and their responses belonged to a fewer number of categories. Children with FASD show reduced ability in generating solutions for social dilemmas. By understanding this weakness, which may partially explain the social skill deficiencies in FASD, targeted therapies may be designed to improve social functioning following prenatal alcohol exposure.
    The Canadian journal of clinical pharmacology = Journal canadien de pharmacologie clinique 01/2012; 19(1):e99-110.
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Empathy has been associated with decreased antisocial and increased prosocial behavior. This study examined empathy and prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress in disruptive behavior disorder (DBD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Six- and 7-year-old children with DBD (with and without ADHD) (n = 67) and with ADHD only (n = 27) were compared to typically developing children (TD) (n = 37). Parents and teachers rated affective empathy in response to sadness and distress on the Griffith Empathy Measure. Children reported affective empathic ability in response to sad story vignettes. Empathy-induced prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress was assessed with a computer task, the Interpersonal Response Task (IRT). Compared to TD, children with DBD (with and without ADHD) and those with ADHD only were rated as less empathic by their teachers, but not by their parents. No differences between groups were observed in children who reported affect correspondence. Children with DBD (with and without ADHD) showed less prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress compared to TD. Children with ADHD only did not differ from TD. An additional analysis comparing all children with a diagnosis to the TD group revealed that the difference in prosocial behavior remained after controlling for ADHD symptoms, but not after controlling for DBD symptoms. These findings of impaired empathy-induced prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress in young children with DBD suggest that interventions to ameliorate peer relationships may benefit from targeting on increasing prosocial behavior in these children.
    European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 03/2014; · 3.70 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Callous-unemotional (CU) traits and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) symptoms are characterized by problems in empathy; however, these behavioral features are rarely examined together in children with conduct problems. This study investigated additive and interactive effects of CU traits and ASD symptoms in relation to cognitive and affective empathy in a non-ASD clinic-referred sample. Participants were 134 children aged 3 to 9 years (M=5.60; 79% boys) with oppositional defiant/conduct disorder, and their parents. Clinicians, teachers, and parents reported on dimensions of child behavior, and parental reports of family dysfunction and direct observations of parental warmth/responsiveness assessed quality of family relationships. Results from multiple regression analysis showed that, over and above the effects of child conduct problem severity and quality of family relationships, both ASD symptoms and CU traits were uniquely associated with deficits in cognitive empathy. Moreover, CU traits demonstrated an independent association with affective empathy, and this relationship was moderated by ASD symptoms. That is, there was a stronger negative association between CU traits and affective empathy at higher versus lower levels of ASD symptoms. These findings suggest including both CU traits and ASD-related social impairments in models delineating the atypical development of empathy in children with conduct problems.
    Psychiatry research. 06/2014;


Available from
May 22, 2014