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Keywords:

  • Adult survivors of child abuse;
  • empathy;
  • posttraumatic;
  • stress disorders

Abstract

Objective

Although studies increasingly point toward problems with social cognition among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), few studies have assessed empathic responding. The aim of the current study was to investigate empathic responding in women with PTSD related to childhood trauma, and the contribution of parental bonding to empathic abilities in this sample.

Methods

Participants with PTSD (n = 29) and sex- and age-matched healthy controls (n = 20) completed two self-report empathy measures, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ), and a self-report measure of attachment, the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI).

Results

Women with PTSD, relative to controls, reported significantly lower levels of empathic concern (= 0.29) and perspective taking (= 0.30), yet significantly higher levels of personal distress (= 0.45) on the IRI. Women with PTSD also reported elevated scores on the TEQ (η2 = 0.13). Levels of paternal care on the PBI, rather than childhood trauma severity or PTSD symptom severity best predicted perspective taking scores on the IRI in the PTSD sample (R2 = 0.20).

Conclusion

Women with PTSD associated with childhood trauma reported alterations among different domains of empathic functioning that may be related to low levels of paternal care.