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Empathic deficits in sexual offenders: An integration of affective, social, and cognitive constructs

Christmas Noelle Covell, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A number of researchers have suggested that lack of empathy is a critical feature of sex offenders. However, the limited and disparate empirical findings supporting this claim has lead to the development of more complex and dynamic models of empathy. Such models suggest that incorporation of social and cognitive factors thought to be related to sexual offending and the development of empathy may further inform the role of this construct in sexual assault. This study explored a multidimensional model of empathy and its relationship of various social, relational and cognitive constructs through. An examination of the relationship of these constructs to distal/proximal social variables and offense behaviors of a criminal population was also conducted. Cluster analysis revealed the presence of four distinct clusters, in which varying patterns of strengths and weaknesses with respect to empathic ability, social/relational functioning, and distorted thinking patterns emerged. These clusters were entitled the Generally Low Empathy group, the Emotionally Reactive group, the Competent group, and the Distorted Perception group in deference to their respective demonstrated empathic characteristics. A series of univariate analyses revealed that cluster membership was related to different developmental experiences, adult characteristics, and offense behaviors. However, cluster membership did not distinguish sexual offenders from offenders with no histories of sexual assault. These findings underscore the importance of assessing social/relational functioning and distorted thinking patterns, as well as developmental experiences, when evaluating, researching, and teaching empathic ability in offender populations. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Covell, Christmas Noelle, "Empathic deficits in sexual offenders: An integration of affective, social, and cognitive constructs" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3074073.