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The study's objective was to empirically assess cognitive and emotional empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). To date, "lack of empathy" is a core feature of NPD solely based on clinical observation. The study's method was that forty-seven patients with NPD, 53 healthy controls, and 27 clinical controls with borderline personality disorder (BPD) were included in the study. Emotional and cognitive empathy were assessed with traditional questionnaire measures, the newly developed Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET), and the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC). The study's results were that individuals with NPD displayed significant impairments in emotional empathy on the MET. Furthermore, relative to BPD patients and healthy controls, NPD patients did not show deficits in cognitive empathy on the MET or MASC. Crucially, this empathic profile of NPD is not captured by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for Axis II Disorders (SCID-II). The study's conclusions were that while NPD involves deficits in emotional empathy, cognitive empathy seems grossly unaffected.
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Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder
Kathrin Ritter
a,
, Isabel Dziobek
b,e,f
, Sandra Preißler
a
, Anke Rüter
a
, Aline Vater
a
, Thomas Fydrich
c
,
Claas-Hinrich Lammers
d
, Hauke R. Heekeren
b,e,f
, Stefan Roepke
a,e,
a
Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Department of Psychiatry, Berlin, Germany
b
Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Neurocognition of Decision Making Group, Berlin, Germany
c
Humboldt University Berlin, Institute of Psychology, Berlin, Germany
d
Asklepios Clinic North Ochsenzoll, Hamburg, Germany
e
Cluster of Excellence Languages of Emotion, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
f
Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Education and Psychology, Berlin, Germany
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 3 March 2010
Received in revised form 16 August 2010
Accepted 26 September 2010
Available online xxxx
Keywords:
Cognitive empathy
Emotional empathy
Social cognition
Mentalizing
Theory of Mind
The study's objective was to empirically assess cognitive and emotional empathy in patients with narcissistic
personality disorder (NPD). To date, lack of empathyis a core feature of NPD solely based on clinical
observation. The study's method was that forty-seven patients with NPD, 53 healthy controls, and 27 clinical
controls with borderline personality disorder (BPD) were included in the study. Emotional and cognitive
empathy were assessed with traditional questionnaire measures, the newly developed Multifaceted Empathy
Test (MET), and the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC). The study's results were that
individuals with NPD displayed signicant impairments in emotional empathy on the MET. Furthermore,
relative to BPD patients and healthy controls, NPD patients did not show decits in cognitive empathy on the
MET or MASC. Crucially, this empathic prole of NPD is not captured by the Structured Clinical Interview for
DSM-IV for Axis II Disorders (SCID-II). The study's conclusions were that while NPD involves decits in
emotional empathy, cognitive empathy seems grossly unaffected.
© 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a lack of
empathyas well as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity and need for
admiration (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). It is a severe
mental disorder with prevalence rates of up to 6% in the general
population (Stinson et al., 2008; Ritter et al., 2010), severe functional
impairment (Miller et al., 2007; Stinson et al., 2008), and high suicide
rates (Pompiliet al., 2004).Although narcissism as a personality trait and
empathy have been shownto be negatively correlated (e.g., Watson et al.,
1984;Watson andMorris, 1991; Watsonet al., 1992;Porcelliand Sandler,
1995) the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth
Edition (DSM-IV) criterion lack of empathyin NPD is solely based on
clinical observation and expert consensus (also personal communication
with E. Ronningstam) (Kohut, 1966; Kernberg, 1970; Akhtar and
Thomson, 1982; Millon, 1983). Thus, to date, a congruent conceptual-
ization and empirical evaluation of the criterionlack of empathyin NPD
are lacking. Therefore, the aim of the study was to empirically assess
empathy in patients with NPD according to DSM-IV.
When NPD rst appeared in the ofcial psychiatric nomenclature in
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Third Edition
(DSM-III) in 1980 (American Psychiatric Association, 1980)lack of
empathywas established as a sub-criterion of the fth criterion
characteristic disturbances in interpersonal relationships(p. 317).
Although DSM-III-based studies revealed that the criterion lack of
empathylacked discriminant validity (Morey, 1985; Gunderson et al.,
1991; Gunderson and Ronningstam, 2001) (i.e., it had multiple
signicant correlations across other personality disorders; PDs), and
offered poor interrater reliability (Pfohl etal., 1986) it was established as
a separate criterion in the DSM-III-R (criterion 8), describing the
inability to recognize and experience how others feeland was also
maintained in the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition
Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) as
criterion 7. Further studies based on the DSM-IV additionally revealed
low diagnostic specicity of the criterion lack of empathy(Blais et al.,
1997; Holdwick et al., 1998; Gunderson and Ronningstam, 2001; Fossati
et al., 2005).
In summary, weak empirical evidence of convergent and divergent
validity of the DSM criterion lack of empathystands in sharp contrast
Psychiatry Research xxx (2010) xxxxxx
Corresponding authors. Department of Psychiatry, Charité Universitätsmedizin
Berlin, CampusBenjamin Franklin, Eschenallee 3, D-14050Berlin, Germany, EU. Tel.: +49
30 8445 8703; fax: +49 30 8445 8757.
E-mail addresses: kathrin.ritter@charite.de (K. Ritter), stefan.roepke@charite.de
(S. Roepke).
PSY-06655; No of Pages 7
0165-1781/$ see front matter © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Psychiatry Research
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/psychres
Please cite this article as: Ritter, K., et al., Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Res. (2010),
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
to longstanding clinical (mostly psychoanalytic) case descriptions and
the conceptualization of NPD (Kohut, 1966; Kernberg, 1970; Akhtar
and Thomson, 1982; Millon, 1983). Our hypothesis is that this
contradiction is due to the fact that no theoretical construct underlies
the NPD criterion lack of empathyin the DSM (Millon, 1983), and
thus, its assessment may be insufcient.
Research has already proposed a multidimensional model of
empathy (Davis, 1983; Blair, 2005a), comprising two distinct but
related constructs: cognitive and emotional empathy. A third
dimension of motor empathy (Blair, 2005a) was later incorporated
into the model of emotional empathy (Preston and de Waal, 2002).
Thus, cognitive empathy (Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2004)
refers to the ability to take another person's perspective and to
represent others' mental states, and as such, broadly overlaps with the
constructs Theory of Mind(Premack and Woodruff, 1978) and
mentalizing(Frith and Frith, 2003). The construct of emotional
empathy (Mehrabian and Epstein, 1972; Eisenberg and Miller, 1987)
describes an observer's emotional response to another person's
emotional state. Based on the multidimensional facet model of
empathy, our group recently developed the Multifaceted Empathy
Test (MET, Dziobek et al., 2008), a task presenting photorealistic
stimulus material and simultaneously assessing both cognitive and
emotional empathy in a more ecologically valid manner than previous
self-rating questionnaires. To further differentiate aspects of cognitive
empathy we developed the Movie for the Assessment of Social
Cognition (MASC, Dziobek et al., 2006), a lm-based task depicting
social interactions, demanding the understanding of the emotions,
thoughts, and intentions of movie characters.
To ascertain the specicity of a lack of empathyin NPD, we used
a clinical comparison group of patients with borderline personality
disorder (BPD) according to DSM-IV in which impaired cognitive
empathy and unimpaired emotional empathy were found. We also
compared both clinical groups to healthy controls (Fonagy et al.,
1996; Harari et al., 2010).
1.1. Aims of the study
The current study was conducted, rst, to empirically assess
cognitive and emotional empathy in a clinical sample of patients with
NPD, and second, to compare the results to a clinical comparison
group of patients with BPD. We hypothesized that patients with NPD
would show signicantly higher impairments in cognitive and
emotional empathy compared to healthy controls. Compared to
patients with BPD, we hypothesized signicant impairment in
emotional empathy and no difference in cognitive empathy for the
NPD group. The third aim was to evaluate the convergence of the
DSM-IV criterion lack of empathywith the empirical measures used
in this study.
2. Materials and method
2.1. Sample
Forty-seven inpatients with NPD were rec ruited from the Department of
Psychiatry, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and cooperating German hospitals.
Fifty-three age- and gender-paralleled healthy comparison subjects were recruited via
media advertisements.
Previous studies of NPD and BPD have reported substantial comorbidity (Westen et
al., 2006) between the two disorders and found overlap in the symptoms of affect
dysregulation, impulsivity, and unstable relationships (Morey, 1988; Ronningstam and
Gunderson, 1991; Blais et al., 1997). To show the more specic character of lack of
empathyfor NPD, we assessed a clinical comparison group with 27 BPD patients
without comorbid NPD from the Department of Psychiatry, Charité Universitätsme-
dizin Berlin. All BPD patients were inpatients and on a waiting list for an inpatient
treatment program prior to admission, and none was admitted for acute care. Axis II
diagnoses of patients and controls were assessed with the Structured Clinical Interview
for DSM-IV for Personality Disorders (SCID-II, First et al., 1997, German version: Fydrich
et al., 1997) by trained psychiatrists or psychologists. Interrater reliability of SCID-II
diagnoses was assessed (N=8) with a pairwise interview design. Interviewers were
blind to PD diagnoses. Kappa was acceptable with κ= 0.797 for NPD diagnosis and
κ=0.820 for BPD diagnosis. For the NPD criterion lack of empathy,however, Kappa
showed a perfect agreement, κ= 1.0. Internal consistencies for NPD items (Cronbach's
α=0.896) and BPD items (Cronbach's α=0.876) were good. Axis I comorbidity was
assessed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for Axis I Disorders (First et
al., 1996, German version: Wittchen et al., 1997) in the NPD sample and with the Mini
International Neuropsychiatric Interview (M.I.N.I., Sheehan et al., 1998, German
version: Lecrubier et al., 1998) in the BPD sample. Exclusion criteria for all patients
were history of psychotic disorder, a current bipolar I or II disorder, a current manic or
hypomanic episode, or substance induced disorder (e.g., intoxication or withdrawal
syndrome). All procedures were approved by the Human Subjects and Ethics Committee
of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Written informed consent was obtained from
each participant. Socio-demographic and clinical data are presented in Table 1.
2.2. Psychometric assessment instruments
To assess psychopathology,the general severityindex (GSI) of the SymptomChecklist
90 Revised(SCL-90-R, Derogatis, 1977, Germanversion: Franke, 2002)was calculated.The
internalconsistencyfor the GSI was good (Cronbach'sα= 0.989).For IQ screening, subtest
4 (recognizingrules) of the well-establishedGerman Leistungs-Prüf-System(LPS, Horn,
1983) was administered.
2.3. Measures of cognitive and emotional empathy
The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983; German version: Paulus,
2006) was employed as a multidimensional self-report estimate of empathy. In this
study we focus on the scales perspective taking(the ability to assume another
individual's point of view) and empathic concern(the capacity to experience
sympathy for others). An example perspective-taking item is: When I'm upset at
someone, I usually try to put myself in his shoesfor a while.An example empathic-
concern item is: I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than
me.The IRI has been shown to correlate with other measures of empathy, providing
support for the construct validity of the measure (Davis, 1980). Both subscales have
good internal consistencies (perspect ive taking: α= 0. 747, empathic con cern:
α=0.776). In the sample of all participants of the present study both scales correlate
moderately with r= 0.457, Pb0.001 (NPD: r= 0.32 2, P= 0.144, BPD: r= 0.534,
P=0.004; healthy controls: r=0.398, P= 0.004).
The Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET, Dziobek et al., 2008) is a PC-assisted test
consisting of photographs that show 23 pairs of picture stimuli with people in
emotionally charged situations. To assess cognitive empathy, participants were
required to infer the mental state of the subject in the photo, and were asked to
indicate the correct one from a list of four. After giving feedback about the displayed
people's actual mental states, emotional empathy was assessed. First, participants were
required to rate the amount of mirroring of an emotion (i.e., emotional contagion) that
took place in response to a picture (e.g., if the mental state of the person was anxious,
subjects were asked to rate how anxious they felt). Participants indicated their
responses on a visual analogue scale ranging from 0 to 9 (0 =not at all, 9 =very much).
As an additional measure of more mature emotional empathy, subjects were also asked
to rate the degree of empathic concern they felt for the person in the picture (visual
analogue scale, 0 =not at all, 9 =very much). All pictures were presented in two forms:
First, all emotionally charged situations (background) were presented without a
person; then, in a second step, all of the situations were presented with a person
expressing a relevant emotion. All background pictures were rst independently rated
for arousal in order to enable us to control for this general level of arousal when
establishing group differences in empathic processing. Internal consistency of the
MET's scales ranged from α= 0.71 to α=0.92, and convergent and divergent validity
were highly satisfactory (Dziobek et al., 2008). In the study sample, the scales emotion
recognition and empathic concern were not correlated (All: r= 0.146, P=0.150; NPD:
r= 0.12 5, P= 0 .578, B PD: r= 0.29 7, P= 0.140; healthy controls: r=0.07 1,
P=0.626); nor were the scales emotion recognition and mirroring emotions (All:
r=0.114, Pb0.265; NPD: r=0.034, P=0.879, BPD: r= 0.362, P= 0.069; healthy
controls: r=0.137, P=0.341). MET cognitive empathy was not correlated with
emotional empathy assessed by the MET either for healthy controls (for empathic
concern: r=0.071, P=0.626, for mirroring emotions: r=0.137, P=0.341) or for
NPD patients (for empathic concern: r=0.010, P= 0.949; for mirroring emotions:
r=0.020, P= 0.893).
To assess cognitive empathy (in terms of Theory of Mind) we also used the video-
based Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC, Dziobek et al., 2006). Not
only did the test prove to have high interrater reliability and internal consistency and
sensitivity, but the results also seem to be highly stable over time (Dziobek et al., 2006).
The test involves watching a 15 min movie about four characters spending an evening
together. It shows everyday social interactions, and is stopped 46 times for questions
about the actors' feelings, thoughts, and intentions. Participants are required to choose
the correct answer out of four possible ones. The test allows for a more differentiated
analysis of specic patterns of social cognitive functioning with separate scores for the
recognition of emotions, thoughts, and intentions. Sum scores for correct answers in all
three sub-categories and a total score were computed. Moreover, the MASC also
includes control questions that assess a participant's inferential processing concerning
nonsocial stimulus material. The MASC has a good internal consistency with Cronbach's
2K. Ritter et al. / Psychiatry Research xxx (2010) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Ritter, K., et al., Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Res. (2010),
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
α=0.802. The MASC sum score was signicantly correlated with the MET score for
cognitive empathy for healthy controls (r= 0.448, P=0.001).
2.4. Statistical analysis
All statistical analyses were performed with SPSS version 15.0 (SPSS Inc., 2006).
Before the use of parametric tests (for socio-demographic variables) to compare
groups, KolmogorovSmirnov tests to assess normality and Levene's tests to assess
homogeneity of variance were performed. Two-group comparisons (NPD vs. healthy
controls) were performed with ttests; for all data without homogeneity of variances,
MannWhitney Utests for two (NPD vs. healthy controls) and KruskalWallis tests for
three groups (NPD vs. BPD vs. healthy controls) were used, and for all categorical data
(e.g., comorbid axis I and axis II disorders, gender), Pearson's χ
2
test or Fisher's exact
test was calculated. Quantitative group mean measures (IRI, MET, and MASC) were
compared using univariate and multivariate analyses of variance or covariance. To
analyze between-group differences, general linear model estimated means were
compared with a priori simple contrasts (to control for Type I errors). Gender was used
as a covariate in all linear models when group differences were present. Convergence
was established with Spearman's nonparametric coefcient to assess correlative
associations between lack of empathyand IRI and MET measures (convergent
validity). All analyses were two-tailed and the alpha level was set at Pb0.05. Omega
squares (ω
2
) were used as measures of effect size (ω
2
=0.010 small, ω
2
=0.059
medium, ω
2
= 0.138 large effect size; Kirk, 1996).
3. Results
3.1. Comparison between NPD and healthy controls
To assess cognitive and emotional empathy in NPDas measured with
the IRI, a MANOVAmodel with perspectivetaking and empathic concern
as dependent variables was conducted, which revealed a signicant
inuence of group (Wilks' λ=0.905, F
2,95
= 4.99, P=0.009). Univariate
between-subjects tests for IRI scales revealed signicant differences in
mean scores for cognitive empathy, but not for emotional empathy.
Patients with NPD reported signicantly lower scores on the IRI scale
perspective taking (cognitive empathy) than healthy controls (Table 2).
To assess cognitive and emotional empathy with the MET task, a
MANCOVA model with the test's subscales as dependent variables and
background arousal as a covariate revealed a signicant inuence of
group, (Wilks' λ=0.764, F
3,92
=9.48, Pb0.001). Univariate between-
subjects tests displayed no signicant differences of patients with NPD
and healthy comparison subjects on cognitive empathy. Patients with
NPD, however, showed signicantly lower scores than healthy controls
on the two emotional empathy scales (Table 2). To analyze cognitive
empathy withthe MASC, an ANOVA model with the MASC total score as
the dependent variable revealed signicantly lower scores for NPD
patients than for controls, (F
1,95
=6.15, P=0.015). MASC subscore
analysis revealed no signicant group effect (Wilks' λ=0.947,
F
3,93
=1.748, P=0.163). Follow up ANOVAs displayed a trend toward
signicance for all subscores, with lower values in the NPD group
compared to healthy comparison subjects for the recognition of
emotions, thoughts, and intentions (Table 2).
3.2. Comparison between NPD, BPD, and healthy controls
To test the specicity of impairments in empathy for NPD, only NPD
patients without comorbid BPD were included in subsequent analyses
and compared to a group of BPD patients without comorbid NPD and a
group of healthy controls (for socio-demographic and clinical data see
Table 1). Self-evaluation of empathy as measured by the IRI subscales
(perspective taking and empathic concern) was included in a
MANOVA as dependent variables, group (NPD, BPD, and healthy
controls) as a xed factor, and gender as a covariate. Analysis showed a
signicant inuence of group (Wilks' λ= 0.9 02, F
4,188
= 2.50 ,
P=0.044). Comparison of a priori contrasts revealed signicantly
lower values for cognitive empathy in NPD and BPD patients compared
to healthy subjects, whereas the emotional empathy scales only
signicantly differed between BPD and healthy controls (Table 3). To
Table 1
Socio-demographic and clinical variables of patients with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and healthy comparison
subjects.
Total NPD sample NPD without BPD Healthy subjects BPD without NPD
(N=47) (N=22) (N= 53) (N=27)
MS.D. MS.D. MS.D. MS.D.
Age (years) 32.4 8.0 34.4 8.3 33.2 10.7 30.0 8.3
Fluid intelligence
a
115.2
1
* 12.0 114.9
2
* 10.6 120.9 10.87 114.7 11.0
Number of comorbid diagnosis 4.7 1.9 2.9 1.8 3.4 2.4
Previous suicide attempts 2.9 3.8 1.3
3
*** 2.0 5.3 6.5
Previous hospitalizations (weeks) 22.4 39.4 8.6
3
** 12.9 42.4 61.1
GSI of SCL 90-R
c
1.7
1
*** 0.7 1.6
3
* 0.6 0.3 0.2 2.0 0.7
N%N%N%N%
Women 24
4
51.0 8
5
*** 36.4 29 54.7 25 92.6
Any affective disorder 33 70.2 16
5
* 72.7 10 37.0
MDE current 17 36.2 12
5
* 54.6 6 22.2
MDE lifetime 21 44.7 14
5
* 63.6 7 25.9
Dysthymia 16 34.0 5 22.7 4 14.8
Any substance use disorder 20 42.6 8 36.4 15 55.6
Any anxiety disorder 13 27.7 5 22.7 11 40.7
PTSD 7 14.9 1
4
* 4.6 8 29.6
Any eating disorder 10 21.3 4 18.2 8 29.6
Any cluster A PD 19 40.4 6 27.3 4 14.8
Any other cluster B PD
b
26 55.3 4 18.2 8 29.6
Antisocial PD 12 25.5 4 18.2 4 14.8
Any cluster C PD 21 44.7 7 31.8 14 51.9
Without psychotropic medication 14 29.8 10 45.5 10 37.0
Antipsychotic 9 19.1 1 4.6 7 25.9
Antidepressant 26 55.3 11 50.0 17 63.0
Mood stabilizer 2 4.3 1 4.6 4 14.8
Note. NPD = narcissistic personality disorder, BPD = borderline personality disorder, MDE = major depression episode, PTSD = posttraumatic stress disorder, PD = personality
disorder,
a
assessed with Leistungs-Prüf-System(LPS),
b
assessed with Symptom Checklist 90 Revised (SCL-90-R),
c
without NPD and BPD,
1
MannWhitney Utest,
2
KruskalWallis
test,
3
ANOVA Ftest,
4
Fisher's exact test,
5
Pearson's χ
2
, signicance levels: *pb0.05, **pb0.01,***pb0.001.
3K. Ritter et al. / Psychiatry Research xxx (2010) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Ritter, K., et al., Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Res. (2010),
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
assess cognitive and emotional empathy with MET, a MANCOVA
model with MET subscales as dependent variables (empathic concern,
mirroring emotions, and emotion recognition) and background
arousal and gender as covariates was conducted, and revealed a
signicant inuence of group (Wilks' λ= 0.762 , F
6,182
= 4.42 ,
Pb0.001). In the a priori contrasts for the MET's cognitive empathy,
patients with NPD displayed no signicant differences compared to
controls, but compared to BPD, contrasts revealed signicantly higher
cognitive empathy scores for patients with NPD (P= 0.022, Table 3).
By contrast, univariate between-subjects tests revealed signicant
differences between groups on the MET's emotional empathy scales
but not on the cognitive empathy scale. For the a priori contrasts of the
emotional empathy scales, patients with NPD showed signicantly
lower scores than controls on both emotional empathy scales
(empathic concern, P=0.014, mirroring emotions, P=0.019). For a
more detailed evaluation of cognitive empathy, an ANCOVA with the
MASC's total score as the dependent variable and gender as a covariate
revealed signicant differences between groups (F
2,95
= 3.5 3,
P=0.033), whereas contrasts solely revealed signicant differences
between patients with BPD and healthy controls (P= 0.011), indicat-
ing unaffected cognitive empathy in NPD and decits in BPD compared
to healthy controls. MASC subscale analysis using a MANOVA
displayed no signicant group effect (Wilks' λ=0.943, F
6,186
=0.92,
P=0.479).
3.3. Convergent validity of lack of empathy
The DSM-IV criterion lack of empathy(measured as an ordinal
variable by the SCID-II with: 1 = absent, 2 = subthreshold, and
3=threshold) was negatively associated (Spearman's ρ) with the
self-reported values for cognitive empathy (IRI;perspective taking: ρ=
0.316, P=0.030), but not with self-reported values for emotional
empathy (IRI; empathic concern: ρ=0.026, P=0.400). No correla-
tive associations could be found for lack of empathyand cognitive or
emotional empathy as measured by the MET (emotion recognition:
ρ= 0.026, P= 0.863; empathic concern:ρ=0.142, P= 0.341;mirror-
ing emotions: ρ=0.140, P=0.346) or cognitive empathy as
measured by the MASC (total score: ρ=0.159, P=0.286).
Table 2
Means, standard deviations (S.D.), and group comparisons for subscales of IRI, MET, and MASC for patients with NPD and healthy comparison subjects.
Measure Group ANCOVA
NPD (N=47) HC (N=51)
MS.D. MS.D. FPω
2
IRI
Cognitive empathy perspective taking 21.32 4.39 23.84 3.59 9.726 0.002 0.082
Emotional empathy empathic concern 24.80 4.33 26.04 3.18 2.626 0.108 0.016
MET
a
Cognitive empathy emotion recognition 22.47 7.33 21.82 1.70 0.648 0.423 0.002
Emotional empathy empathic concern 4.68 1.57 5.80 1.40 25.405 b0.001 0.199
Emotional empathy mirroring emotions 4.45 1.37 5.42 1.39 23.703 b0.001 0.188
MASC
Cognitive empathy (total score) 30.77 4.94 33.34 5.26 6.150 0.015 0.049
Recognize emotions 10.38 2.35 11.10 2.15 2.474 0.119 0.015
Recognize thoughts 3.13 0.80 3.36 0.72 2.260 0.136 0.013
Recognize intentions 9.33 2.25 10.10 2.29 2.815 0.097 0.023
Note. NPD = narcissistic personality disorder, HC = healthy controls, IRI = Interpersonal Reactivity Index, MET = Multifaceted Empathy Test, MASC = Movie for the Assessment of
Social Cognition,
a
The Ftests the group effect. This test (ANCOVA) is based on the linearly independent pairwise comparisons among the estimated marginal means
(covariate =background arousal). Degrees of Freedom: IRI and MASC: d.f.
numerator
=1, d.f.
denominator
=95; MET: d.f.
numerator
=1, d.f.
denominator
=94.
Table 3
Means, standard deviations (S.D.), and group comparisons for subscales of IRI, MET, and MASC for patients with NPD, patients with BPD, and healthy controls.
Group
1: NPD
without BPD
2: BPD
without NPD
3: HC ANCOVA Simple contrasts (P)
(N=22) (N= 27) (N= 53)
Measures MS.D. MS.D. MS.D. FPω
2
1 vs. 2 1 vs. 3 2 vs. 3
IRI
a
Cognitive empathy perspective taking 21.73 4.13 21.21 4.86 23.86 3.63 4.095 0.020 0.058 0.820 0.041 0.017
Emotional empathy empathic concern 25.15 3.70 24.38 6.99 25.98 3.18 2.058 0.133 0.021 0.181 0.746 0.046
MET
b
Cognitive empathy emotion recognition 22.40 4.90 20.50 4.55 21.82 1.69 2.895 0.060 0.037 0.022 0.368 0.055
Emotional empathy empathic concern 4.81 1.39 5.14 2.13 5.80 1.40 8.123 0.001 0.125 0.303 0.014 b0.001
Emotional empathy mirroring emotions 4.55 1.26 4.70 1.80 5.42 1.39 10.71 b0.001 0.163 0.080 0.019 b0.001
MASC
a
Cognitive empathy (total score) 31.09 5.10 29.78 8.19 33.34 5.26 3.531 0.033 0.048 0.294 0.224 0.011
Recognize emotions 10.43 2.57 10.63 2.96 11.10 2.15 0.969 0.383 0.001 0.626 0.485 0.184
Recognize thoughts 3.25 0.58 3.11 0.89 3.36 0.72 0.616 0.542 0.008 0.933 0.423 0.350
Recognize intentions 9.56 2.37 8.85 2.55 10.10 2.28 2.520 0.086 0.029 0.258 0.437 0.028
Note. NPD= narcissistic personality disorder, BPD = borderline personality disorder,HC = healthy controls,IRI = InterpersonalReaction Index,MET = MultifacetedEmpathy Test,MASC
= Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition,
a
covariate=gender,
b
covariates=gender, background arousal. The Ftests the group effects. These tests (ANCOVAs) are based on the
linearly independent pairwise comparisons among the estimated marginal means (covariates= gender or gender and background arousal). Degrees of Freedom: IRI and MASC: d.
f.
numerator
=2, d.f.
denominator
=98; MET: d.f.
numerator
=2, d.f.
denominator
=97.
4K. Ritter et al. / Psychiatry Research xxx (2010) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Ritter, K., et al., Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Res. (2010),
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
4. Discussion
The NPD criterion lack of empathyhas been listed in the DSM
since 1980 although it has never been empirically established. In the
current study we assessed emotional and cognitive empathy in a
clinical sample of patients with a diagnosis of NPD. We used new
ecologically valid instruments based on the multifaceted model of
empathy. We could not conrm our a priori hypothesis; however, a
different pattern of empathy impairment in NPD was found. Thus, the
present data provide the rst empirical evidence that NPD involves
impaired emotional empathy, whereas cognitive empathy remains
unaffected. Further, NPD patients overestimate their capacities for
emotional empathy and show motivational decits for cognitive
empathy. A near neighborcomparison with BPD inpatients provided
additional evidence that this pattern is characteristic of NPD. These
ndings challenge the way lack of empathyin NPD is currently
conceptualized in the DSM-IV and illustrate that actual standardized
assessment tools (e.g., the SCID-II interview) are insufcient for
correctly capturing all aspects of lack of empathyin NPD.
4.1. Cognitive empathy
Assessing cognitive empathy via self-report (IRI) revealed signif-
icant impairment in patients with NPD. On the more objective and
ecologically valid MET task, no decit in cognitive empathy in the NPD
patients could be detected. A closer look at the cognitive empathy
items of the IRI reveals that they capture motivational aspects (all
items include the phrasing “… I try to…”;Davis, 1980) rather than a
capacity. Thus, underestimation of cognitive empathy on the IRI could
reect a motivational decit; whereas unaffected performance on the
cognitive empathy scale of the MET may capture normal capacity
compared to controls.
Although the assessment of cognitive empathy by means of the
sensitive MASC task revealed impairments in NPD patients, those
impairments could not be replicated when comorbid BPD patients were
excludedfrom the NPD sample.By contrast, but in accordance withprior
research (Fonagy et al., 1996; Harari et al., 2010), BPD patients showed a
trend toward impairment in cognitive empathy on the MET and clear
decits in cognitive empathy as measured by the MASC compared to
controls, especially inrecognizing the intentions of other persons. Thus,
the subtle decit in cognitive empathy as measured by the MASC sum
score in thetotal NPD sample maybe explained by BPD comorbidity.The
nding of signicantly better cognitive empathy measures in NPD
patients compared to BPD patients on the MET, although not replicated
with the MASC, also supports this argument. Further studies with a
dimensional assessment of PD pathology should investigate the impact
of subthreshold personality disorder pathology (e.g., BPD) on social
cognition within NPD patients, in whom PD comorbidity is frequent
(Westen et al., 2006).
4.2. Emotional empathy
NPD patients do not report impairments in emotional empathy as
measured by the IRI. However, the more objective MET task clearly
indicates impairments in emotional empathy in the NPD sample on
both a mature (empathic concern) and more basic (mirroring
emotions) level. Excluding patients with comorbid BPD from the
NPD group, the emotional empathy impairment in NPD could be
replicated. In the present study, both patient groups, NPD and BPD
patients, displayed signicantly impaired emotional empathy when
compared to healthy controls. Our data suggest that patients with
NPD are less able to mirror emotions and are less emotionally
responsive to another person's emotional state compared to healthy
controls. Interestingly, these decits in emotional empathy are not
perceived by NPD patients, as indicated by the unimpaired self-report
IRI scales. Discrepancies in emotional empathy between the IRI and
the MET/MASC may be related to an overestimation of competence in
NPD patients. Subjects with narcissistic traits have been shown to
overrate their task performance in social judgment and mind-reading
skills, which was closely related to the typical narcissistic self-
aggrandizement(Ames and Kammrath, 2004). In contrast to the
more motivational IRI items on cognitive empathy, items for
emotional empathy are more related to capacity/ability.
Thus, NPD patients show a characteristic pattern of empathy
decits compared to healthy controls, which includes overestimation
of their capacity for emotional empathy with impairment in
emotional empathy on a more ecologically valid task (MET). Further,
they show preserved cognitive empathy ability with decits in
motivational aspects of cognitive empathy. Behavior specic to NPD
could be ascribed to this characteristic pattern of an empathy decit in
NPD. As empathic concern or sympathy is often associated with
prosocial behavior such as altruism (Decety and Hodges, 2006), a lack
of emotional empathy could account for asocial behavior. Thus,
arrogant, overtly disdainful, critical, or aggressive reactions toward
others' feelings, or, in more severe forms, attempts to con, manipulate,
or emotionally exploit others, could be due to an overestimation of
emotional empathy with an actual lack of ability. Also, cognitive and
emotional empathic functions have been found to be necessary for a
person's relational competence, especially for maintaining romantic
relationships (Davis and Oathout, 1987), which has been shown to be
problematic for NPD patients. Also, in nonclinical samples of adults
who show narcissism as a personality trait, lack of empathy has been
linked to entitlement, exploitativeness (Watson et al., 1984), need for
power, control, and dominance (Wiehe, 2003).
The present results suggest that NPD patients display a similar
pattern of empathic decits as has been described for psychopathic
individuals in whom empathic dysfunction is also an essentially
diagnostic criterion (Wiehe, 2003; Blair, 2005b; Goldberg et al., 2007).
Psychopathy is associated with decits in emotional empathy (Blair,
2005b; Goldberg et al., 2007) and largely unimpaired cognitive
empathy (Richell et al., 2003; Dolan and Fullam, 2004). The neuro-
anatomical basis of psychopathy has been ascribed to a dysfunction of
the amygdala (Kiehl et al., 2001), and one could speculate about a
common amygdala dysfunction in psychopathy and NPD correlating
to the decit in emotional empathy.
With regard to BPD, our results argue for impaired emotional and
cognitive empathy in these patients. The results of previous research
on empathy in BPD had found impairment in cognitive empathy with
preserved emotional empathy (Harari et al., 2010). In contrast to our
study, BPD patients with comorbid axis I disorders were excluded in
this study, which might explain discrepancies. Further research is
needed to address this topic.
4.3. Convergent validity
Assessment of the NPD criterion lack of empathyis based on
DSM description or SCID-II interview, both of which are not explicitly
based on a theoretical construct of empathy. The DSM-IV diagnostic
criterion lack of empathyis described as: lacks empathy: is
unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of
others.According to the wording is unwilling,the criterion does
not imply someone's ability to recognize or identify with the feelings
and needs of others, but rather his/her motivation. Similarly, the exact
wording in the SCID-II interview is as follows: You've said that you're
NOT really interested in other people's problems or feelings. (Tell me
about that.)And further: You've said that people have complained
to you that you don't listen to them or care about their feelings. (Tell
me about that.)(p. 27). Again, the wording does not assess the
ability, but rather the motivation. IRI items of cognitive empathy also
assess motivation (all items include the phrasing “…I try to…”;Davis,
1980) rather than ability. In our study, we found the self-report
measure of cognitive empathy (IRI subscale perspective taking) to
5K. Ritter et al. / Psychiatry Research xxx (2010) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Ritter, K., et al., Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Res. (2010),
doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013
be negatively correlated with the criterion lack of empathyas
measured by the SCID-II in NPD patients. This indicates that the SCID-
II mainly assesses the subjectively perceived motivational decit in
cognitive empathy.
By contrast, the more objective and ecologically valid measure of
emotional empathy by means of the MET did not correlate with the
SCID-II parameter lack of empathy,indicating that ability was not
assessed by the SCID-II. To our knowledge, all previous studies that
assessed sensitivity, specicity, and convergent validity of the
criterion lack of empathy,used DSM criteria or the SCID-II interview
(Morey, 1985; Ronningstam and Gunderson, 1990; Blais et al., 1997;
Holdwick et al., 1998; Gunderson and Ronningstam, 2001; Fossati et
al., 2005). Thus, one conclusion of those data could be that the lack of
convergent and divergent validity of the criterion lack of empathyin
previous studies is mainly due to two points: First, the imprecise
denition of empathy, focusing mainly on the motivational aspects
and disregarding the multidimensional aspects of empathy, and
second, the lack of appropriate assessment tools. Our data argue for a
denition of lack of empathybased on an ability, at least in addition
to motivation.
The study has some limitations. First, the presented results are
based on a relatively small sample of psychiatric inpatients. Thus, our
results have to be replicated in less impaired outpatient samples of
patients with NPD. Also, further studies should take into account
dimensional personality traits such as schizotypy (Henry et al., 2008)
or psychopathy. Further studies should also address the topic of
specicity of empathy impairment and behavioral consequences, for
example, by including motor empathy (Blair, 2005a), using other
complex social cognitive tasks (Golan et al., 2006; Zaki et al., 2008,
2009), or using in- and out-group designs (De Dreu et al., 2010). Also,
the impact of state variables moderated by emotional regulation
abilities (e.g. impact of anger, shame and envy) and self-esteem
regulation abilities on empathic functioning should be addressed in
future studies (see Tangney, 1995; Campbell et al., 2000; Netzlek et
al., 2007).
The data provide the rst empirical evidence that patients with NPD
display signicant impairments in emotional empathy, that is, the ability
to feel what other people feel. In contrast, patients with NPD did not show
decits in cognitive empathy, that is, in taking another person's
perspective. Furthermore, our data argue that subtle decits in cognitive
empathy in NPD patients are related to BPD comorbidity. Emotional
empathy decits seem to be shared with near neighborBPD, whereas
preliminary empirical evidence suggests that impairments in cognitive
empathy abilities could to be more specic for BPD. In addition, NPD
patients overestimate their abilities to show emotional empathy and
report a motivational decit for cognitive empathy compared to controls,
whereas BPD patients don't. The current DSM-IV-based NPD symptom
lack of empathyand the assessment by the SCID-II interview do not
capture the decits in emotional empathy measured in the present study
with more ecologically valid tasks. We suggest a more precise theory
based denition of the criterion lack of empathy,and advocate for the
use ofmore sensitive and multidimensional assessment tools for empathy
in NPD.
Acknowledgments
This research was supported by a doctoral fellowship from Charité University
Medicine Berlin (to Mrs. Ritter), the foundation Sonnenfeld-Stiftung,Berlin (Mrs.
Ritter) and by the Cluster of Excellence Languages of Emotion,Berlin (Ms. Vater). We
are grateful to the cooperating Departments of Psychiatry of the following hospitals:
Theodor-Wenzel-Werk, Berlin, Asklepios Clinik North, Hamburg, and the Institute for
Behavioral Therapy (IVB GmbH), Berlin, for their assistance with patient recruitment.
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... For example, aggressive offenders that, by definition, showed severe antisocial behavior, do not exhibit altered mentalizing abilities 25 . Likewise, persons scoring high on the traits narcissism or psychopathy-that are both characterized by reduced prosocial behavior-appear to display normal 26,27 or even slightly increased mentalizing performance 28 . Beyond that, it has also been shown and argued that the association between mentalizing and prosocial behavior underlies contextual variation (for reviews, see 29,30 ). ...
Article
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In a world with rapidly increasing population that competes for the earth’s limited resources, cooperation is crucial. While research showed that empathizing with another individual in need enhances prosociality, it remains unclear whether correctly inferring the other’s inner, mental states on a more cognitive level (i.e., mentalizing) elicits helping behavior as well. We applied a video-based laboratory task probing empathy and a performance measure of mentalizing in adult volunteers (N = 94) and assessed to which extent they were willing to help the narrators in the videos. We replicate findings that an empathy induction leads to more prosocial decisions. Crucially, we also found that correct mentalizing increases the willingness to help. This evidence helps clarify an inconsistent picture of the relation between mentalizing and prosociality.
... i.e., those with a narcissistic personality disorder (e.g., Ritter et al., 2011;Ronningstam, 2016). Yet, when the need to belong is understood as dimensional construct, individuals with higher scores were found to place more importance on secure and save relationships, for example with friends, than individuals with lower scores (Study 7; Leary et al., 2013). ...
Thesis
Who is willing to be in a close relationship to an individual with high narcissism, and how do individuals with high narcissism perceive their friendships? Three aspects of narcissism were distinguished (agentic, antagonistic, neurotic) to determine their association with four aspects of friendship quality (appreciation, intimacy, conflict, dominance). In the first study, a dyadic perspective was taken to observe whether friendship quality differs depending on the dyadic narcissism level of friends. As hypothesized, individuals in dyads with higher narcissism perceived their friendship quality as lower, compared to individuals in dyads with lower narcissism. More conflicts were perceived across narcissism aspects. Dyads with high antagonistic narcissism also perceived lower appreciation and intimacy. Results were interpreted in favor of the assumption that maladaptive traits are tolerated by those who possess these traits themselves. In the second study, a longitudinal perspective was taken to examine interactional effects of narcissism and friendship quality across 4 measurement occasions. On a within-person level, individuals scoring lower than usual on narcissism were found to subsequently perceive higher appreciation, and those perceiving lower appreciation than usual subsequently increased in antagonistic narcissism. Results suggested that the effects found in relationship formation tend to generalize to relationship maintenance. Overall, this work expanded previous research on narcissism and social relationships by observing relationship quality in long-term friendships including a dyadic as well as a longitudinal perspective. To answer the question of who is willing to be friends with someone high in narcissism, results suggest that it would be individuals who also score high on narcissism. In regard to the question of how individuals with high narcissism perceive their friendships it was found that they tend to be willing to accept lower friendship quality.
... Narcissistic Personality Disorder has shown a positive correlation with the SEEKING scale (Karterud et al., 2016), which tend to express the typical extraversion trait of these patients, particularly the grandiose type (Campbell and Miller, 2011;Zajenkowski and Szymaniak, 2019). In addition, negative correlations with the CARE scale and positive inclination to the ANGER scale were observed (Karterud et al., 2016), likely reflecting the tendency for low emotional empathy in these individuals (Ritter et al., 2011). ...
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In this paper, I distinguish three different levels for describing, and three corresponding ways for understanding, deficient empathy as the core of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). On the macro level, deficient empathy can be explained as disturbed interpersonal functioning, and is understood as lack of recognition. On the meso-level, deficient empathy can be described as psychic disintegration, and can be understood specifically in its dissocial aspects. Psychic disintegration in NPD correlates with somatic changes, i.e., dysfunctional affective empathy and mind-reading on the micro level of description, which is the third level. The “core-deficit-model of NPD” that I outline, while not rejecting reductionist approaches outright, argues in favor of integrating (top-down/bottom-up) functionalist descriptions of empathy into a wider conceptual framework of bio-psycho-social functioning. The “core-deficit-model of NPD” is interdisciplinary, can bypass monodisciplinary skepticism, and removes purported barriers between explaining and understanding the “lack” of empathy as the core of pathological narcissism.
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Introduction A traditional and important distinction in the study of most individual differences is that between a trait and a state. For psychologists, traits are relatively stable and enduring characteristics that tend to be considered more as causes of behaviours (including the selection of situations) than as outcomes. The adverb ‘relatively’ is included as a qualifier because traits may change over an extended period of time (e.g. over a decade or a lifetime), but for most intents and purposes, it is assumed that traits do not change. In contrast, states are presumed to change and are more often thought of as outcomes or reactions to circumstances, although it is entirely possible to think of states as causes of behaviours including the selection of situations and circumstances. There is no fixed time period over which a state must or should exist – the length of a state can vary from minutes to hours, perhaps encompassing an entire day. Regardless, the assumption is that states change, and such changes are meaningful and represent something other than random fluctuation. The state-trait distinction is particularly important because it cannot be assumed that constructs at the two levels of analysis function in the same ways. That is, state- and trait-level phenomena may be governed by, or reflect, different psychological processes (e.g. Tennen et al., 2005). Consistent with this distinction, state- and trait-level relationships are mathematically independent (e.g. Nezlek, 2001). © Cambridge University Press 2007 and Cambridge University Press, 2009.
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