Measuring empathy: Arguments for the development of multiple tests of empathy

Dr Tracey Woolrych

University of Wollongong,

There is a wealth of evidence indicating that increases in empathy correlate with decreases antisocial behaviours.  As such, empathy training is often included in rehabilitation programs, most of which involve “Empathy Groups’ to address issues such as accountability and victim-specific empathy.   Empathy based treatments have been used with sex offenders, child molesters, anti-social youths, and male domestic violence offenders.  Dispositional empathy measures are the primary method for assessing empathic capacity, while the accuracy with which other’s emotion cues (affective empathic accuracy) is not assessed.   Empathy is a complex set of processes requiring a range of assessments to establish a complete picture of empathic deficits in offenders.  This paper examines the need for multiple empathy assessments, and presents a model of empathy disposition and empathic accuracy which will highlight the pitfalls of relying on only one measure of empathy to make rehabilitation program decisions.   It also critiques a range of empathic disposition and accuracy measures, arguing that more easily administered and reliable tests of empathic accuracy need to be developed specifically for a prison-testing environment.


Tracey is an early career researcher focusing on empathic accuracy deficits.  Having won a University Medal at Murdoch University, she is now an associate lecturer at the University of Wollongong continuing her research into measures of empathic accuracy.  The goal of this research is to develop a range of empathy tests to be used with offenders to help inform rehabilitation program decisions.  Other interest areas include emotion recognition and factors that influence both empathy and emotion recognition processes.


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