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Initially thought of as a unitary ability, empathy has been more recently considered to consist of 2 components (i.e., an affective and a cognitive component). The Basic Empathy Scale (BES) is a tool that has been used to assess empathy in young people and adolescents on the basis of this dual-component conception (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006). Recent studies of empathy have led to it being defined as underpinned by 3 components, namely, emotional contagion, emotional disconnection, and cognitive empathy. The aims of this study were (a) to validate the BES in Adults and (b) to compare the different conceptions of empathy. Three hundred seventy French adults took part in the study, and 160 of them filled out complementary scales measuring empathy, alexithymia, and emotional consciousness. The confirmatory factor analyses showed that the 3-factor model was the model that was best able to account for the data. Complementary tools confirmed the relationships previously observed between empathy as assessed with the BES and other scales assessing emotional processes. The results of this study make it clear that empathy can be seen as process-dependent. This conception of empathy, which is based on 3 factors, is consistent with the current, more integrated view of empathy. The implications of this conception and the opportunity to use the 2 or 3 factors of the BES in adults are presented in the Discussion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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The Basic Empathy Scale in Adults (BES-A):
Factor Structure of a Revised Form
Arnaud Carré
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne Nicolas Stefaniak
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne and
University of Liege
Fanny D’Ambrosio and Leïla Bensalah
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne Chrystel Besche-Richard
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne and Institut
Universitaire de France
Initially thought of as a unitary ability, empathy has been more recently considered to consist of 2
components (i.e., an affective and a cognitive component). The Basic Empathy Scale (BES) is a tool that
has been used to assess empathy in young people and adolescents on the basis of this dual-component
conception (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006). Recent studies of empathy have led to it being defined as
underpinned by 3 components, namely, emotional contagion, emotional disconnection, and cognitive
empathy. The aims of this study were (a) to validate the BES in Adults and (b) to compare the different
conceptions of empathy. Three hundred seventy French adults took part in the study, and 160 of them
filled out complementary scales measuring empathy, alexithymia, and emotional consciousness. The
confirmatory factor analyses showed that the 3-factor model was the model that was best able to account
for the data. Complementary tools confirmed the relationships previously observed between empathy as
assessed with the BES and other scales assessing emotional processes. The results of this study make it
clear that empathy can be seen as process-dependent. This conception of empathy, which is based on 3
factors, is consistent with the current, more integrated view of empathy. The implications of this
conception and the opportunity to use the 2 or 3 factors of the BES in adults are presented in the
Keywords: empathy, emotion, contagion, emotional regulation, Basic Empathy Scale (BES)
Empathy is a heterogeneous construct that has received consid-
erable attention during the last few years (Decety & Svetlova,
2012). Empathy has recently been accorded an important role due
to the increasing interest shown by researchers in issues relating to
social cognition. For instance, empathy has been shown to be
negatively correlated with aggressive behaviors (L. E. Marshall &
Marshall, 2011;Mehrabian, 1997). This impairment in empathy
has not only been observed in aggressors. For example, depression
has also been associated with empathic disturbance (Thoma et al.,
2011), with depressed patients usually being more sensitive to both
the distress and affective states of other people. Empathic pro-
cesses have also been found to be impaired in schizophrenia, in
which a negative correlation has been observed between negative
symptomatology and the automatic emotional processes involved
during the early stages of empathy (Haker & Rössler, 2009).
Similarly, the automatic processes of emotion perception and
identification as well as the cognitive strategies involved in the
processing of empathy are impaired in autism spectrum disorder
(Clark, Winkielman, & McIntosh, 2008;Schulte-Rüther et al.,
Interest in empathy has not been limited solely to the field of
psychopathology, and the way it is conceived of has changed
This article was published Online First July 1, 2013.
Arnaud Carré, Department of Psychology, Research Unit “Cognition,
Health, Socialization” (C2S, EA 6291), University of Reims Champagne-
Ardenne, Reims, France; Nicolas Stefaniak, Department of Psychology,
Research Unit “Cognition, Health, Socialization” (C2S, EA 6291), Uni-
versity of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, and Department of Cogni-
tive Science, University of Liege, Liège, Belgium; Fanny D’Ambrosio and
Leïla Bensalah, Department of Psychology, Research Unit “Cognition,
Health, Socialization” (C2S, EA 6291), University of Reims Champagne-
Ardenne; Chrystel Besche-Richard, Department of Psychology, Research
Unit “Cognition, Health, Socialization” (C2S, EA 6291), University of
Reims Champagne-Ardenne, and Institut Universitaire de France (IUF),
Paris, France.
The research was supported in part by a scientific grant from the
Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council (Arnaud Carré) and the Institut
Universitaire de France (Chrystel Besche-Richard). Arnaud Carré received
a Doctoral Research Fellowship from the Champagne-Ardenne Regional
Council (2009–2012). Fanny D’Ambrosio received a Doctoral Research
Fellowship from the Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council (2007–2010).
Arnaud Carré is now ATER (Attaché Temporaire d’Enseignement et de
Recherche/Teaching and Research Assistant) at the University of Reims
Champagne-Ardenne (2012–2013).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Arnaud
Carré, Laboratoire C2S, Cognition Santé Socialisation (EA6291), Univer-
sité de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France. E-mail: arnaud.carre@
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Psychological Assessment © 2013 American Psychological Association
2013, Vol. 25, No. 3, 679– 691 1040-3590/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0032297
considerably since the early pioneering studies (Lipps, 1979;
Titchener, 1909). Rogers (1951) defined empathy as “the concept
of the ‘as if’” (p. 129), which means that empathy makes it
possible to understand another person’s views and his or her
feelings. This includes the ability to feel similar emotions and
understand their causes. Viewed within this perspective, empathy
has been considered to be a unique ability. This initial conception
highlights the main difference between empathy, in which a certain
distance and a distinction is maintained between “self” and “oth-
ers,” and a complete process of identification.
However, the way in which empathy is thought of has changed
in order, more specifically, to account for the processes involved in
both emotion processing and social interactions. This shift led to
the emergence of a conception of empathy based on two compo-
nents: an affective and a cognitive component (Davis, 1983a,
1983b;Deutsch & Madle, 1975;Hoffman, 1977;Hogan, 1969;
Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006;Lawrence, Shaw, Baker, Baron-
Cohen, & David, 2004;Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972). According to
this view, empathy is an essential part of both emotional function-
ing and interpersonal cognition, making individuals particularly
attentive to both the mental states and emotions of other people.
Furthermore, it is necessary to distinguish between this concept
and a simple sensitivity to distress (Batson, Fultz, & Schoenrade,
1987;Decety, 2010). According to this view, appropriate empathic
responses are the result of the efficient functioning of several
processes. At a fundamental level, if people are to be responsive to
the emotional states of others needs, then they must also be
sufficiently attentive to their emotions (Decety & Jackson, 2004;
W. L. Marshall, Hudson, Jones, & Fernandez, 1995).
The empathic response requires the recognition of one’s own
and other people’s emotions. It also requires the ability to share
and replicate other people’s emotional states while simultaneously
being aware that these emotions are not one’s own (i.e., affective
responsiveness). In addition, it demands the ability to adopt an-
other person’s perspective while simultaneously preserving the
distinction between self and other (emotional perspective taking).
Finally, it requires individuals to choose the best socioemotional
response (e.g., by soothing a sad person without being as sad as
this person). Although the empathic response is often confounded
with that of sympathy, these two concepts are different. Indeed,
according to Eisenberg (2010), sympathy frequently stems from
empathy but can be distinguished from it in that it consists of
feeling an emotion for the other person rather than feeling an
emotion as the other feels it or is expected to feel it. According to
Joliffe and Farrington (2006), the emotion felt in sympathy is not
necessarily the same as the emotion felt by the other person.
Although empathy can result in individuals feeling negative emo-
tions on behalf of another person, it is sufficiently modulated not
to cause personal distress.
Curiously, the range of tools developed in order to assess
empathy is very limited. Davis (1983b) was the first to contribute
by developing the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis,
1983b). This scale is itself further subdivided into two scales
(affective and cognitive components), and also includes several
cognitive (i.e., Fantasy and Perspective Taking) and affective (i.e.,
Personal Distress and Empathic Concern) subscales. It makes it
possible to describe the cognitive processes involved in empathy
(i.e., the ability to understand another person’s emotion) and to
characterize the style of an individual’s emotional functioning (i.e.,
the ability to experience another person’s emotion). Even though
the IRI has long been used to assess empathy, it has also been the
object of considerable criticism. According to Jolliffe and Far-
rington (2004,2006), the perspective-taking component of the IRI
is not limited to the understanding of an emotion but assesses a
broader ability to adopt the other person’s viewpoint even when
emotions are not involved, as in IRI Item 25 (“when I am upset at
someone, I usually try to put myself in his shoes for a while”;
Davis, 1980). Moreover, Joliffe and Farrington also argued that the
Empathic Concern subscale confounds empathy with sympathy
because this subscale is designed to assess “other-oriented feelings
of sympathy and concern for unfortunate others” (Davis, 1980,p.
114). This view is also supported by Batson, Early, and Salvarani’s
(1997) results. Indeed, these authors showed that asking people to
imagine how they would feel in a particular situation leads not
only to an empathic response but also to self-oriented distress and
a compassionate response. In other words, this subscale assesses
sympathy, which is different from empathy. These results weaken
the Empathic Concern subscale of the IRI because the items of this
subscale are formulated in a way that asks people to determine
how they would feel in a particular situation. For instance, there is
nothing in IRI Item 2 (“I often have tender, concerned feelings for
people less fortunate than me”; Davis, 1980) to suggest that a
person less fortunate than the responder is experiencing his or her
situation in a negative way. Furthermore, affective empathy is not
assessed any better by the Personal Distress subscale because all
the corresponding items focus on emergency situations (e.g., IRI
Item 5 [“In emergency situations, I feel apprehensive and ‘ill-at-
ease’”; Davis, 1980]). However, empathic response does not nec-
essarily involve emergencies. These issues explain why the IRI is
not the best way to assess the complexity of the processes involved
in empathy.
In order to overcome the weaknesses of the IRI, Jolliffe and
Farrington (2006) developed the Basic Empathy Scale (BES),
which focuses on two factors (i.e., cognitive and affective factors
of empathy) and four basic emotions (i.e., anger, fear, happiness,
and sadness). In the BES, affective empathy is defined as the
ability to feel an appropriate emotional response when one is
confronted with the mental state attributed to another person
(Bryant, 1982), and cognitive empathy is defined as the under-
standing of another person’s affective state (Hogan, 1969). Unlike
in the IRI, the Cognitive subscale of the BES is limited to under-
standing why another person feels a specific emotion (e.g., “I can
understand my friend’s happiness when she/he does well at some-
thing”), whereas the Affective Empathy subscale focuses on how
another person’s emotions are felt without any reference to an
emergency situation (e.g., “After being with a friend who is sad
about something, I usually feel sad”).
However, the BES, which can be considered to be a two-factor
scale, does not take account of the most recent conception of
empathy. Indeed, a number of studies have suggested that empathy
depends on three components (e.g., Decety, 2011a;Decety &
Michalska, 2010). First, emotional contagion is thought to corre-
spond to the automatic replication of another person’s emotions
(Iacoboni & Dapretto, 2006;Lipps, 1979). Second, cognitive em-
pathy is defined as the ability to understand and mentalize another
person’s affects (Decety, 2011b). The mechanism of cognitive
empathy is therefore thought to be distinct from emotional conta-
gion and automatic identification (Hoffman, 1977,2000;W. L.
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Marshall et al., 1995). Third, emotional disconnection is seen as a
regulatory factor that involves self-protection against distress,
pain, and extreme emotional impact (Batson et al., 1987;Lamm,
Batson, & Decety, 2007). One argument suggesting that this three-
factor model might be appropriate is its consistency with devel-
opmental and neuroimaging studies of empathy (Decety, 2010,
2011a;Decety & Jackson, 2004;Decety & Svetlova, 2012), and
the need to see empathy as an active process based on functional
and dynamic mechanisms that are involved in social contexts and
account for the processes involved in empathy (Gerdes, Lietz, &
Segal, 2011). Indeed, recent research suggests that empathy, as
well as the processing and regulation of emotions, depends on both
bottom-up and top-down processing (Decety & Svetlova, 2012;
Gyurak, Goodkind, Kramer, Miller, & Levenson, 2012). Accord-
ing to this approach, the bottom-up component of empathy would
relate to affective sharing or contagion, whereas the top-down
processes, which involve the regulation of emotions and inten-
tional mechanisms, would modulate empathic experience (i.e., the
cognitive empathy component of the three-factor model) and could
be regulated by emotional disconnection (i.e., the third component
of the three-factor model), which could itself correspond to an
emotional suppression (Gross, 2002;Lamm et al., 2007).
Neuropsychological studies also seem to support the idea that
three components are involved in empathy. Emotional contagion,
for example, is thought to involve automatic processes that permit
the rapid evaluation of the nature of the emotion and whether it is
positive or negative, pleasant or aversive. Due to its automatic
character, it involves subcortical structures such as the limbic lobe,
which is known to be involved in emotion processing (Derntl et al.,
2010;Hariri, Tessitore, Mattay, Fera, & Weinberger, 2002;Phil-
lips, Drevets, Rauch, & Lane, 2003). The second component,
which relates to cognitive empathy (Decety & Svetlova, 2012),
involves activations of the insular cortex, which promotes emo-
tional awareness, as well as of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex
(PFC) and the medial PFC, which are responsible for the under-
standing of emotions (Decety, 2011a). The third component of
empathic functioning makes it possible to regulate emotions
through the mechanism of emotional disconnection. This appears
to be related to executive functions that are implemented in a
top-down network based on the orbitofrontal cortex, medial and
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex
(Decety, 2011a;Decety & Michalska, 2010).
From a developmental viewpoint, the emotional contagion pro-
cesses are the first component to appear. After this, more cognitive
(i.e., cognitive empathy) and regulatory (i.e., emotional disconnec-
tion) functions develop in parallel with cognitive and cerebral
maturation. Indeed, both these components of empathy are closely
related to the development of both theory of mind and executive
functions, which evolve later (Zelazo, Carlson, & Kesek, 2008).
Among the different tools used to assess empathy, the BES
appears to avoid some of the weaknesses present in the IRI (Joliffe
& Farrington, 2004) and is therefore a suitable instrument to use
when seeking to account for the characteristics of empathy. Al-
though the BES has been translated and support for a two-factor
structure has been found in French adolescents (D’Ambrosio,
Olivier, Didon, & Besche, 2009), its factor structure has not yet
been examined in French adults. The first aim of the present study
was to verify that the score on the BES, which was initially
developed for young people, is a valid measure for assessing
empathy in healthy adults (BES-A). Second, to determine the best
factor structure for the BES-A, we compared three conceptions of
empathy, namely, the single-factor model, the usual two-factor
model of the BES (Albiero, Matricardi, Speltri, & Toso, 2009;
Albiero, Matricardi, & Toso, 2010;D’Ambrosio et al., 2009;
Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006;Li, Lv, Liu, & Zhong, 2011), and the
three-factor model, which has emerged from the most recent
developments in the study of empathy (Decety, 2010,2011b). We
wanted to determine which of these models provides the best
account of the psychometric properties of the BES-A. Further-
more, because empathy is related to emotional functioning, we
evaluated the relationship between empathy and the dimensions of
emotional consciousness assessed using the Emotional State Ques-
tionnaire (ESQ; Cassé-Perrot, Fakra, Jouve, & Blin, 2007). We
expected that the BES-A subscales would be correlated with the
ESQ. Moreover, a number of previous studies have found rela-
tionships between empathy and alexithymia, indicating that a
person who finds it difficult to express or identify his or her own
feelings is likely to experience similar difficulties when confronted
with another person’s emotions (D’Ambrosio et al., 2009;Gryn-
berg, Luminet, Corneille, Grèzes, & Berthoz, 2010;Jolliffe &
Farrington, 2006). We expected to find a link between impair-
ments in empathy and alexithymia as assessed using the Toronto
Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20; Bagby, Taylor, & Ryan, 1986). Fi-
nally, in order to exclude the possibility that the score on the
BES-A, which is a self-report questionnaire, might be related to a
desirability bias, we also included the Social Desirability Scale
(SDS; Crowne & Marlowe, 1960). We did not expect to find any
correlation between the SDS and the BES-A.
Three hundred seventy participants (260 women and 110 men)
were recruited. The participants consisted of psychology or social
science students (248 participants) as well as working (118) (em-
ployees) and retired people (four participants). According to the
classification by the Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes
Economiques (French National Institute of Statistics and Eco-
nomic Studies; INSEE), 26 of the working participants were con-
sidered as belonging to Category 3 (i.e., senior executive), 18 to
Category 4 (i.e., middle executive), 28 to Category 5 (employee)
and 23 to Category 6 (i.e., manual worker). The other participants
were unemployed persons (12), artisans (five), or agricultural
workers (one). This information was not provided for six persons.
The participants were recruited on a voluntary basis. A brief
screening questionnaire was used at the start of the study in order
to collect information about gender, age, level of education, and
mother tongue. These characteristics are detailed in Table 1.A
self-report questionnaire was then administered to identify past or
present anxious, depressive, neurological or somatic disorders,
addictions, and drug consumption. Participants with current or past
disorders were excluded from the analyses. Sixty percent of the
sample (n222) completed the scale twice at an interval of 7
weeks in order to establish test–retest reliability. The participants
were volunteers who completed and signed a consent form. The
study was designed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.
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One hundred sixty participants from the overall sample involved
in this study completed three supplementary scales: the TAS-20
(Bagby et al., 1986;Loas, Otmani, Verrier, Fremaux, & Marchand,
1996), the IRI (Davis, 1983b;Grynberg et al., 2010), and the ESQ
(Cassé-Perrot et al., 2007). These three scales were optional and
were completed at the same time as the initial completion of the
The BES. The BES is a 20-item scale developed by Jolliffe
and Farrington (2006). The items in the French version that we
used in the present study were back-translated by D’Ambrosio et
al. (2009). The participants had to give their ratings on a 5-point
Likert type scale (1 Strongly Disagree,2Disagree,3
Neither Agree nor Disagree,4Agree,5Strongly Agree).
In the two-factor model (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006), nine items
assess cognitive empathy (Items 3, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19, 20), and
11 items assess affective empathy (Items 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15,
17, 18). In the two-factor conceptualization, the BES included
seven reversed items and the scores could range from 20 (deficit in
empathy) to 100 (high level of empathy). One of the authors of the
present study also classified the items according to the definitions
used in the three-factor model. According to this classification, six
items were thought to relate to the definition of emotional conta-
gion (CONT; Items 2, 4, 5, 11, 15, 17) (e.g., “I get caught up in
other people’s feeling easily ”), eight items to the definition of
cognitive empathy (EMP; Items 3, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20) (e.g., “I
have trouble figuring out when my friends are happy”), and six
items to the definition of emotional disconnection (DIS; Items 1, 7,
8, 13, 18, 19) (e.g., “I am not usually aware of my friend’s
feelings”). In order to ensure that the items were correctly assigned
to the corresponding factors, we also asked two independent per-
sons to classify the items on the basis of the definitions used in the
model. Both persons classified 19 items correctly. The item that
was classified in another scale was Item 6 and was interpreted as
corresponding to emotional disconnection. However, after being
asked why they did not consider the item to correspond to cogni-
tive empathy, both of them spontaneously changed their decision
and classified the item as cognitive empathy. Items are shown in
Appendix A.
The SDS. The SDS (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960) is one of the
tools that is most frequently used to assess the tendency of indi-
viduals to respond by distorting their own self-representations in a
way that reflects social desirability and a need for approval (An-
drews & Meyer, 2003;Leite & Beretvas, 2005). The SDS is a scale
consisting of 33 true–false items that cover two kinds of behaviors:
acceptable but doubtful behavior or unacceptable but plausible
behavior. Given that this scale reflects a social desirability bias
(i.e., a lack of honesty in the responses), no significant correlations
were expected between the SDS scores and the BES.
The ESQ. The ESQ (Cassé-Perrot et al., 2007) is a short
self-report measure of emotional consciousness. The 33 items are
distributed into four dimensions, that is, recognition (REC), ex-
pression (EXPRES), internal emotional experience (IEE), and so-
cial context (SC). This tool assesses participants’ impression of
their own ability to encode and decode emotions. Each dimension
is rated on a 10-point scale. The items in the ESQ are based on
fundamental emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust,
and surprise) and are mostly assessed on the basis of the perception
of familiar faces. This makes it possible to evaluate emotional
profiles and their variations during changes to emotional states
(Besnier et al., 2010;Cassé-Perrot et al., 2007).
To the best of our knowledge, no norms or cutoff values relating
to the emotional consciousness assessed with the ESQ have as yet
been published for the general population. However, these values
have been published in a study of changes in emotional conscious-
ness in psychiatrists and psychologists (Besnier et al., 2010). A
comparison of Besnier et al.’s (2010) results with those obtained in
the present study suggests that the sample in the present study
obtained slightly higher scores.
The IRI. The IRI (Davis, 1983a,1983b) is one of the most
widely used self-report questionnaires for the study of empathy. It
is a 5-point Likert type scale consisting of 28 items. The IRI
contains four subscales (Fantasy-Empathy, Perspective Taking,
Empathic Concern, Personal Distress). Two subscales assess the
cognitive dimension: Perspective Taking (PT) and fantasy (FS).
The affective dimension is also assessed by two subscales: Per-
sonal Distress (PD) and Empathic Concern (EC). More specifi-
cally, Perspective Taking refers to the ability to take into account
both the views and mental states of others. Fantasy measures
fictional identification. Personal Distress assesses the tendency to
feel anxious in negative situations and experience a lack of control
in emotional conditions. Finally, the Empathic Concern subscale
evaluates feelings toward others and the ability to worry about
them. An examination of norms for the IRI (Davis, 1980) revealed
that our French sample obtained lower scores than the original
sample, which consisted of students.
Table 1
Characteristics of the Participants
Variable M(SD)
Age (years) (SD) 26.05 (12.41)
Level of education 12.58 (1.29)
Social Desirability Scale 16.49 (5.03)
IRI (n160)
FS 26.57 (5.17)
EC 26.63 (4.68)
PT 23.25 (4.48)
PD 22.63 (4.92)
ESQ (n278)
Total score 24.17 (6.45)
REC 6.7 (1.54)
EXPRES 6.42 (1.53)
IEE 5.63 (1.69)
SC 6.1 (1.91)
TAS-20 (n160)
Total score 57.13 (8.69)
DIF 17.02 (5.32)
DDF 14.32 (3.15)
EOT 25.78 (3.19)
Note. IRI Interpersonal Reactivity Index; FS Fantasy; EC Em-
pathic Concern; PT Perspective Taking; PD Personal Distress;
ESQ Emotional State Questionnaire; REC Recognition; EXPRES
Expression; IEE Internal Emotional Experience; SC Social Context;
TAS-20 Toronto Alexithymia Scale; DIF Difficulties in Identifying
Feelings; DDF Difficulties in Describing Feelings; EOT Externally
Oriented Thinking.
gender differences with p.05 using a ttest.
gender differences with
p.001 using a ttest.
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The TAS-20. Alexithymia is defined as an impairment in the
processing of emotions (Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1997). The
relations between empathy (assessed with the BES) and alexithy-
mia (assessed by the TAS) were assessed because alexithymia
shares characteristics with empathy at the level of interpersonal
cognition (Grynberg et al., 2010). The 20-item version of the
TAS-20 (Bagby, Parker, & Taylor, 1994;Loas et al., 1996)is
composed of three subscales: Difficulties in Identifying Feelings
(DIF), Difficulties in Describing Feelings (DDF), and Externally
Oriented Thinking (or attention to external events). The maximum
score that can be obtained on the TAS-20 is 100. On the basis of
French norms (Guilbaud et al., 2002;Loas et al., 1996), our sample
appeared to obtain scores slightly above the mean in the TAS-20
(M46.2; SD 10.52), with a few scores being above the
general cutoff for alexithymia (56). The scores obtained in the
present study are presented in Table 1.
Statistical Analysis
The confirmatory factor analyses were conducted using LISREL
(Jöreskog, 1990;Jöreskog & Sörbom, 2004). Confirmatory factor
analyses were performed on the polychoric correlations. We used
Bravais-Pearson test to examine the correlations between the BES
and the other scales used in the study.
Psychometric Properties of the BES-A
A confirmatory factor analysis was performed on the polychoric
correlations using the diagonally weighted least squares parameter
estimation method in order to assess the factor structure of the BES
in the French-speaking adult population. We tested the two-factor
structure that was originally proposed by Joliffe and Farrington
(2006) and had previously been tested in French youths
(D’Ambrosio et al., 2009). When performing the analyses, we
treated residual errors as uncorrelated. This analysis revealed that
the data were fitted to the model,
(169) 510.65, p.001,
root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA) .074 (90%
CI [.067, .81]), goodness-of-fit index (GFI) .95, adjusted
goodness-of-fit index (AGFI) .94. These different indices re-
vealed a reasonably good fit between the data and the model
because the chi-square value was not greater than 3 times the
degree of freedom, the RMSEA was less than .10, and both the
GFI and the AGFI were greater than 0.90 (see Figure 1).
We tested two other models of empathy in order to determine
whether they might provide a better account of the data. The first
of these was the single-factor model. The different adjustment
criteria suggested that this model did not account for the data as
well as a model in which the affective and the cognitive factors are
(170) 776.54, p.001, RMSEA .098 (90% CI
[.091, .110]), GFI .93, AGFI .91. These results were con-
firmed by the Akaike’s information criterion (AIC), which was
smaller for the two-factor model (AIC 592.65) than for the
single-factor model (AIC 856.54), as well as by the significant
improvement in chi-square between the unidimensional and the
affective–cognitive model, ⌬␹
(1) 265.89, p.001.
The second alternative model that we examined was the three-
factor model (e.g., Decety, 2011a,2011b;Decety & Michalska,
2010;Favre, Joly, Reynaud, & Salvador, 2005,2009). In order to
assess this model, we redefined the different items of the BES-A
in the light of the definition of each of these factors (see the
Method section). This model also fitted the data,
460.10, p.001, RMSEA .069 (90% CI [.061, .077]), GFI
.96, AGFI .95. The AIC was smaller for the three-factor model
(AIC 546.10) than for the two-factor model (AIC 592.65).
Chi-square was also significantly better in the three-factor model
than in the two-factor model, ⌬␹
(2) 50.55, p.001. These
results suggest that the three-factor model can also be used to
account for the data. The loadings of the items on the correspond-
ing factors in this model are presented in Figure 2.
Given that the loading of Item 4 was weak both in the two-factor
model and in the three-factor model, we explored the possibility
that errors could covary. However, the addition of error covariance
in the model did not improve the loading of Item 4. Given that we
could not improve the loading of Item 4, we excluded this item
from the analyses. This exclusion improved both the two- and
three-factor models. However, the three-factor model remained
statistically better than the two-factor model and yielded the fol-
lowing indices:
(149) 372.28 p.001, RMSEA .064 (90%
CI [.056, .072]), GFI .97, AGFI .96. The AIC was smaller for
Figure 1. Two-factor structure of the Basic Empathy Scale in Adults
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the three-factor model (AIC 454.28). The final model is pre-
sented in Figure 3.
In order to determine the internal consistency of the BES-A, we
computed Cronbach’s alpha for each factor in the three-factor
model. Cronbach’s alpha for EMP was .69. The corresponding
value for CONT was .72 and .82 for DIS. In order to determine
whether reliability decreased for the three-factor model, we com-
puted Cronbach’s alpha for the two-factor model (without Item 4,
which was also problematic in the two-factor model). These anal-
yses showed that Cronbach’s alpha for cognitive empathy was .71,
whereas the corresponding value for affective empathy was .84.
These values were thus quite similar to the alpha values obtained
in the three-factor model for EMP (.69) and for DIS (.82). The
details of the item-total correlations are presented for the structures
with three and two factors in Table B1.
Finally, we also analyzed the test–retest reliability in a sample of
222 participants. After a mean interval of 7 weeks, the correlations
between the test and the retest were analyzed on the different
factors. The correlation between EMP scores was r.56, r
.3118, p.001, whereas that between CONT scores was r.74,
.5488, p.001, and, finally, between DIS scores, r.70,
.4761, p.001. The participants’ scores in the BES-A are
presented in Table 2. We also assessed the test–retest reliability for
the two-factor model. Concerning affective empathy, the correla-
tion was r.7980, r
.6368, p.001, and the correlation for
cognitive empathy was r.6110, r
.3733, p.001. In order
to determine whether test–retest reliability was better for the
two-factor model than for the three-factor model, we compared the
correlations between cognitive empathy in the two-factor model
and the empathy factor in the three-factor model. We also com-
pared both DIS and CONT with affective empathy. These analyses
revealed that the sizes of the correlations were quite similar (p
.12), except in the case of the comparison between DIS and
affective empathy (p.02).
The fact that we found significant correlations means that the
three factors appeared, to some extent, to be related to each other.
Table 2
Mean (and Standard Deviation) for the Different Subscales of
the BES-A (Three Factors)
Scale M(SD)(n370)
DIS 12.0 (3.95)
CONT 16.6 (3.48)
EMP 32.1 (3.24)
Note. BES-A Basic Empathy Scale in Adults; DIS definition of
emotional disconnection; CONT definition of emotional contagion;
EMP definition of cognitive empathy.
Figure 3. Three-factor structure of Basic Empathy Scale in Adults
(BES-A) with 19 items.
Figure 2. Three-factor structure of Basic Empathy Scale in Adults
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The CONT subscale was correlated with the DIS subscale (r
.64, r
.42, p.001) and the EMP subscale (r.26, r
p.001). DIS was also correlated with EMP (r⫽⫺.41, r
Bravais-Pearson Correlations Between the BES-A
With Three Factors and Other Measures
As expected, no significant correlation was found between the
BES-A subscales and the total SDS score. This absence of corre-
lation means that responses to the BES-A were not related to a
desirability bias. Detailed results are presented in Table 3. With
regard to the relationship between the BES-A and emotional
consciousness, we found positive correlations between the ESQ
social scale and the cognitive empathy factor of the BES-A, which
indicate that emotional consciousness about others increases in
line with the empathic process (see Table 3). As far as the discon-
nection and the contagion factors are concerned, we found a
negative and a positive correlation with the expression factor of
emotion (ESQ-EXPRES), respectively. Difficulties in emotion
recognition were related to contagion. Contrary to previous results
(e.g., Joliffe & Farrington, 2006), no correlation was found be-
tween the BES-A and the TAS-20 total scores, except in the case
of the Cognitive Empathy subscale. Moreover, significant negative
correlations were found between the EMP subscale of the BES-A
and the DIF and DDF subscales of the TAS-20. These results make
it clear that the misidentification and mislabeling of emotions
might be related to difficulties in representing affective states. The
positive correlation between the Contagion subscale of the BES-A
and the DIF subscale of the TAS-20 suggests that contagion by
other people’s emotion is related to difficulties in identifying one’s
own emotions. Finally, the link between the difficulties in describ-
ing feelings and emotional disconnection suggests that mislabeling
could lead to maladaptive behavior toward other people’s emo-
tions. Detailed results for the correlations are also presented in
Table 3.
Gender Differences in Empathy
Given that previous studies have demonstrated gender differ-
ences in empathy (D’Ambrosio et al., 2009;Joliffe & Farrington,
2006), we wanted to determine whether this gender difference
appeared on the three factors. Because there were different num-
bers of men and women in the sample, we resampled the women
so that the groups were of the same size. We then performed a
two-tailed ttest on each factor (using the Satterthwaite approxi-
mation due to heteroscedasticity when necessary). These analyses
revealed a significantly higher score for women (M17.28, SD
3.38) than for men (M14.93, SD 3.34) on the emotional
contagion factor, t(218) 5.17, p.001, d0.70, and a
significantly lower score for women (M11.35, SD 3.55) than
for men (M13.88, SD 4.29) on the emotional disconnection
factor, t(218) 4.78, p.001, d0.64. Concerning the cogni-
tive empathy factor, the mean score (M32.24, SD 2.76)
achieved by the women was marginally higher than that of the men
(M31.46, SD 3.92), t(195.55) 1.71, p.09, d0.64.
These results are consistent with those reported by Joliffe and
Farrington (2006) because they showed that the size of the effect
was much greater for affective empathy (d1.33) than for
cognitive empathy (d0.63).
Importantly, although no significant difference was found for
the Cognitive Empathy subscale of the three-factor structure, such
a difference was observed when the analysis was performed on the
two-factor structure, t(195.66) 2.34, p.05, with a higher mean
for women (36.62) than for men (35.44). This discrepancy can be
explained by the fact that one cognitive empathy item of the
two-factor structure was interpreted as emotional disconnection in
the three-factor structure.
Conversely, factor analyses were not performed by gender
because there were not enough men in the sample. Indeed,
several authors suggest that the sample size should be at least
200, or even more (Cattell, 1978;Comrey & Lee, 1992;Guil-
ford, 1954).
In the present study, we investigated the psychometric proper-
ties of the French version of the BES in a sample of healthy adults
because these properties of the BES have already been examined
in various countries in populations consisting of youths and teen-
agers (Albiero et al., 2009;D’Ambrosio et al., 2009;Jolliffe &
Farrington, 2006). Our aim, on the one hand, was to validate an
adult version of the BES and, on the other, to identify the model of
empathy that is best able to explain the factor structure of the BES.
In line with this objective, we tested three models: the unidimen-
sional model, the two-factor model (i.e., affective and cognitive
empathy), and the three-factor model of empathy (i.e., emotional
contagion, emotional disconnection, and cognitive empathy). A
confirmatory factor analysis indicated that both the two-factor and
three-factor models could better account for the data than the
unidimensional model. These results further confirm both the
Table 3
Correlations of the BES-A and the Other Scales
SDS .16 .01 .09
IRI-FS .28
IRI-EC .66
IRI-PT .23
.05 .36
IRI-PD .31
ESQ-REC .07 .15
ESQ-IEE .10 .07 .04
ESQ-SC .14 .10 .19
ESQ-total .16
.11 .15
TAS-DIF .01 .19
.01 .21
TAS-EOT .09 .03 .06
TAS-total .11 .13 .17
Note. BES-A Basic Empathy Scale in Adults; DIS definition of
emotional disconnection; CONT definition of emotional contagion;
EMP definition of cognitive empathy; SDS Social Desirability Scale;
IRI Interpersonal Reactivity Index; FS Fantasy; EC Empathic
Concern; PT Perspective Taking; PD Personal Distress; ESQ
Emotional State Questionnaire; REC recognition; EXPRES expres-
sion; IEE internal emotional experience; SC social context; TAS
Toronto Alexithymia Scale; DIF Difficulties in Identifying Feelings;
DDF Difficulties in Describing Feelings; EOT Externally Oriented
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cognitive and neuroscientific data relating to emotional and socio-
cognitive processing (Decety, 2011a;Decety & Svetlova, 2012),
which suggest that empathy could be based on three components.
Nevertheless, even though our results suggest that both the two-
factor and the three-factor structure are appropriate, this does not
constitute a validation of the scale because the finding is due to the
unequal proportions of men and women in the sample. Indeed, our
sample contained twice as many women as men.
Empathy in social contexts therefore seems to be underpinned
by (a) emotional contagion by another person’s emotion, (b) emo-
tional disconnection, and (c) cognitive empathy. Emotional con-
tagion is thought to be an automatic and unconscious process
(Dimberg & Thunberg, 2000;Papousek, Harald Freudenthaler, &
Schulter, 2011), which involves subcortical structures known to be
involved in emotion processing (Derntl et al., 2010;Hariri et al.,
2002;Phillips et al., 2003). This is consistent with recent studies
that suggest that emotional contagion involves a bottom-up com-
ponent (Decety & Svetlova, 2012;Gyurak et al., 2012) and that it
constitutes the first step in the empathic functioning that is thought
to develop during the preverbal period (Lamm, Porges, Cacioppo,
& Decety, 2008). Emotional disconnection is defined as a response
that is thought to be based on a mechanism of disconnection from
emotion that protects individuals from excessive emotions (i.e.,
emotions considered to be unsustainable). Emotional disconnec-
tion is considered to be a top-down process that has a regulatory
function, in particular in terms of the inhibitory control exercised
by the prefrontal and the cingulate cortex (Decety & Lamm, 2006;
Singer & Lamm, 2009). Alternatively, this emotion regulation
strategy could be considered to be a partially efficient way to react
to emotional situations (Gross, 2002) when compared with com-
plete emotional appraisal. Finally, cognitive empathy relates to the
ability to understand and mentalize other people’s affects and is
underpinned by the PFC (Decety, 2011a). It also includes emo-
tional awareness, which stems from the insular cortex (Decety &
Svetlova, 2012). It corresponds to the concept of empathy as an
“orientation towards others” coupled with an ability to understand
others’ views.
The emotional contagion factor (i.e., BES-A CONT) was pos-
itively related to the different subscales of the IRI (i.e., FS), EC,
and PD but was not linked to the PT subscale. This suggests that
emotional contagion is due to a sensitivity to emotions as well as
to a tendency toward a lack of control (i.e., PD), which would be
consistent with a lack of PT. Emotional contagion was also posi-
tively associated with the expression of emotions (i.e., EXPRES)
and negatively linked to emotional recognition (i.e., REC) as
measured by the ESQ scale. These results might mean that emo-
tional contagion is also associated with a deficit in the ability to
recognize other people’s emotions. This result is consistent with
the correlation found between emotional contagion and DIF, as
measured by the TAS-20 scale. More specifically, our results make
it clear that the misidentification and mislabeling of emotions may
be related to difficulties in representing affective states and that
contagion by other people’s emotions is related to difficulties in
identifying one’s own emotions.
Emotional disconnection (i.e., BES-A DIS) was negatively cor-
related with all the subscales of the IRI (i.e., FS, EC, –PT, PD) as
well as with EXPRESS of the ESQ scale. This would seem to
indicate that disconnection in empathic functioning is the inverse
of well-adapted empathic functioning. Interestingly, the negative
link between emotional disconnection and both PT and PD could
be due to the presence of a conflict between the understanding of
other people’s emotional situations and one’s own lack of emo-
tional control, which would lead to emotional suppression. This
emotional suppression might explain the impulsive behaviors ad-
opted in emergency situations (Billieux, Gay, Rochat, & Van Der
Linden, 2010;Billieux et al., 2012), on the one hand, and mal-
adaptive behaviors, such as violence among young people (Favre
et al., 2005,2009;Mehrabian, 1997), on the other. A positive
correlation was also found between emotional disconnection and
DDF, as measured by the TAS-20. This might be related to
difficulties affecting the processes involved in empathy and the
regulation of emotion.
As far as cognitive empathy (i.e., BES-A EMP) is concerned,
this factor appears to assess not only several components of the IRI
such as FS, EC, and PT but also experience with social context
(i.e., SC) as measured by the ESQ. This finding supports the idea
that empathy goes beyond basic skills such as recognizing emo-
tions or understanding another person’s point of view and could
reflect specific aspects involved in cognitive empathy (Davis,
1983b;Grynberg et al., 2010). The absence of any significant
correlation between cognitive empathy (EMP) and the PD measure
of the IRI suggests that the process underpinning this component
provides a way of instantly distancing oneself from another per-
son’s emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them at the cost
of personal pain, as is the case for the two previous factors (i.e.,
emotional contagion and emotional disconnection). Moreover, a
negative correlation was found between cognitive empathy and the
TAS-20 scales (i.e., DIF and DDF) and provides support for the
idea that empathy impairment increases in alexithymia (Grynberg
et al., 2010). One could argue that the links between alexithymia
and the Empathy scale might simply constitute an artifact due to
the difficulties in describing one’s own feelings experienced by
individuals with a high level of alexithymia. Indeed, one could
hypothesize that people who find it difficult to describe their own
emotions might also have more general difficulties with regard to
emotions and might therefore find it difficult to respond to an
empathic scale. However, this view would not be consistent with
the studies that have shown that the ability of high- and low-
alexithymic participants to recognize facial emotions is similar to
that of normal controls (Berembaum & Prince, 1994;Mayer,
DiPaolo, & Salovery, 1990;McDonald & Prkachin, 1990;Mon-
tebarocci, Surcinelli, Rossi, & Baldaro, 2011). Indeed, there is no
reason to think that more highly alexithymic participants would be
less capable of understanding words related to emotions.
Taken together, these results suggest that the better delineation
of factors offered by this new three-factor model of the BES-A
could contribute to our understanding of the mental impairment of
emotional components and might provide a better account of how
empathy is deployed in social and emotional contexts. The rela-
tions with other tools that assess emotional functioning provide
support for the external validity of the BES-A score. There is a
growing body of evidence showing that empathy is a key element
in emotional and interpersonal functioning and that it should be
considered to be a multidimensional concept (Decety & Jackson,
2004;Gerdes et al., 2011;Grynberg et al., 2010). Initially consid-
ered as based on two factors, namely, the cognitive and affective
dimensions of empathy, the BES (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006) can
now be thought of as a tool that is based on three factors. Further-
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
more, our results are not restricted to adult populations. Indeed, we
extended our analysis to include empathy as initially modeled in a
teenage population in a French sample (in accordance with
D’Ambrosio et al., 2009) and found that the three-factor model
again provides a better account of the results. The large body of
evidence also confirms that empathy can be conceived of within a
three-factor model.
To further delineate this conception of empathy, it would appear
necessary to examine results obtained using other measures of
emotional functioning (e.g., anxious or depressed states) or on the
basis of personality dimensions, as in the case of the IRI (Moora-
dian, Davis, & Matzler, 2011). Another limitation of this study
relates to the fact that the analyses were based on a sample of
nonclinical participants. As explained above, the three components
that have been described in order to construct the new factors of
the BES are drawn primarily from data about social cognition
obtained within developmental and psychopathological frame-
works. In addition, the BES-A, defined on the basis of the three-
factor model, could help to better specify the impairments of
empathic functioning observed in several psychopathologies such
as anxiety and mood disorders, autism, or schizophrenia. Finally,
as empathy is known to involve several processes that are related
to different cerebral areas (Shamay-Tsoory, 2011), it seems appro-
priate to explore the neural correlates of the BES-A in order to
determine whether the three components of this model correspond
to the neural activations described in previous studies.
In conclusion, if the BES-A remains an appropriate tool for
assessing empathy according to a two-factor structure, it is also
possible to take into account the recent definition of the processes
involved in empathy and to implement them in the BES-A, such as
we did in this study. In other words, the BES-A can be used in
French either with a two-factor or a three-factor structure depend-
ing on the needs of the study. It now provides a brief assessment
of empathic functioning in teenagers and adults. This conception
of empathy based on three factors is consistent with an extended
and more integrated vision of empathy. Earlier two-factor struc-
tures (i.e., cognitive and affective processes) were limited in their
ability to describe the processes involved in empathy. The three-
factor structure (i.e., emotional contagion, emotional disconnec-
tion, and cognitive empathy) constitutes a more recent perspective
of the functional and dysfunctional components of empathic pro-
cesses and responses in both adults and teenagers. Further research
will be needed in order to gain a better understanding of the
usefulness of the BES-A in different contexts.
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(Appendices follow)
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Appendix A
Items of the Basic Empathy Scale (20 items)
1. My friends’ emotions don’t affect me much.
2. After being with a friend who is sad about something, I
usually feel sad.
3. I can understand my friend’s happiness when she/he
does well at something.
4. I get frightened when I watch characters in a good scary
5. I get caught up in other people’s feelings easily.
6. I find it hard to know when my friends are frightened.
7. I don’t become sad when I see other people crying.
8. Other people’s feeling don’t bother me at all.
9. When someone is feeling ‘down’ I can usually understand
how they feel.
10. I can usually work out when my friends are scared.
11. I often become sad when watching sad things on TV or in
12. I can often understand how people are feeling even before
they tell me.
13. Seeing a person who has been angered has no effect on my
14. I can usually work out when people are cheerful.
15. I tend to feel scared when I am with friends who are afraid.
16. I can usually realize quickly when a friend is angry.
17. I often get swept up in my friends’ feelings.
18. My friend’s unhappiness doesn’t make me feel anything.
19. I am not usually aware of my friends’ feelings.
20. I have trouble figuring out when my friends are happy.
(Appendices continue)
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Appendix B
Received May 28, 2012
Revision received January 29, 2013
Accepted February 5, 2013
Table B1
Details of Cronbach’s Alpha Coefficients (BES--Three-Factor Model)
1 .61
2 .54
3 .29
4 deleted
5 .53
6 .40
7 .54
8 .70
9 .34
10 .48
11 .42
12 .40
13 .47
14 .38
15 .40
16 .37
17 .51
18 .75
19 .47
20 .44
Details of Cronbach’s alpha coefficients (BES–Two-factor model)
Item Affective Cognitive
1 .56
2 .56
3 .33
4 deleted
5 .62
6 .39
7 .56
8 .64
9 .35
10 .46
11 .45
12 .40
13 .49
14 .37
15 .39
16 .37
17 .54
18 .68
19 .37
20 .47
Note. BES Basic Empathy Scale; CONT definition of emotional contagion; EMP definition of cognitive empathy;
DIS definition of emotional disconnection.
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Supplementary resource (1)

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Contemporary theories have generally focused on either the behavioral, cognitive or emotional dimensions of prosocial moral development. In this volume, these three dimensions are brought together while providing the first comprehensive account of prosocial moral development in children. The main concept is empathy - one feels what is appropriate for another person's situation, not one's own. Hoffman discusses empathy's role in five moral situations. The book's focus is empathy's contribution to altruism and compassion for others in physical, psychological, or economic distress. Also highlighted are the psychological processes involved in empathy's interaction with certain parental behaviors that foster moral internalization in children and the psychological processes involved in empathy's relation to abstract moral principles such as caring and distributive justice. This important book is the culmination of three decades of study and research by a leading figure in the area of child and developmental psychology.
The aim of the present study was to contribute to the validation of the Italian version (Albiero, Matricardi & Toso, 2009) of the Basic Empathy Scale (BES; Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006) and to test its factorial invariance across gender. A sample of 1191 Italian adolescents completed the scale. The results of the multisample confirmatory factor analyses showed a reasonable data fit with the two hypothesized BES domains of cognitive empathy and affective empathy and suggested that the two dimensions are stable across gender. Scale reliability was also satisfactory, showing good internal consistency. BES scores were also significantly associated with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and with a scale measuring prosocial behavior scores. Research and practice implications are discussed.
The lack of a consensus around a definition of empathy and its confusion with the phenomena of sympathy and compassion, did not fail to be reflected on research undertaken to study and more precisely to measure this disposition. He aim of the article is to propose : 1 / a theoretical and critical historical overview leading to specify what is exactly empathy compared to other concepts in the field of emotion sharing ; 2 / a new scale measuring empathy (CEC) as a phenomenon to be distinguished from emotional contagion and what we will call « emotion disconnection ». The second part of this paper, planned to be published in 2006, will present the validation of the CEC and will show that this tool as well as the underlying theoretical framework allow us to consider empathy as an emotional, social and cognitive capacity likely to constitute an educational target for teachers concerned by the behavioural regulation at school during teaching time.
Instruments currently being used to measure empathy do not reflect the recent neuroscientific scholarship on mirror neurons and the importance of self-awareness and emotion regulation in experiencing the fullest extent of empathy. The authors describe a theoretical framework for the initial development and pilot application of an empathy self-report instrument, the Empathy Assessment Index (EAI). The EAI is based on a comprehensive definition of empathy that is rooted in social cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and social work's commitment to social justice. The authors present reliability, concurrent validity, and data reduction and refinement results from the first administration of the index. Four of the five EAI subscales had excellent internal consistency and test-retest reliability. Three subscales were tested for concurrent validity. The exploratory factor analysis identified six factors that explained over 43% of the variance.