Empathie en agressie. Empathie bij 6-7 jarige kinderen met een disruptieve gedragsstoornis en de relatie tussen empathie en CU-trekken, reactieve- en proactieve agressie
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Background: Previous research showed a negative relationship between empathy in adolescents and elementary school children and disruptive behavior disorders (DBD). The current study explored empathy in clinically referred boys and girls (aged 6-7) with DBD (n = 38) and normal controls (n = 45) and its relationship with callous-unemotional traits (CU-traits) and proactive and reactive aggression. Method: Empathy was measured with a parent- and teacher-report ‘The Griffith Empathy Measure’ and a psychological task ‘Affective Situation Test for Empathy’ was presented to the participating children. Also, CU-traits and proactive and reactive aggression were assessed by parent and teacher questionnaires. Results: As hypothesized, children with DBD showed significantly less cognitive and affective empathy reported by their teachers, than their normal controls. According to the parent-reports cognitive but not affective empathy was lower among the children with DBD. Empathy scores on the psychological task showed no differences between groups. The study also explored empathy whether DBD children with a high level of CU-traits differ from DBD children with low CU-traits on empathy measures. As expected children with DBD and a high level of CU-traits, reported by parents, showed lower affective empathy according to parents. Also children with DBD and a high level of CU-traits, reported by teachers, showed lower cognitive empathy according to parents. Interestingly, children with DBD with less affective empathy, reported by parents showed significantly more proactive aggression according to teachers. Discussion: Consistent with previous research, children with DBD showed according to their teachers and to a lesser extent, according to their parents less empathy than their normal controls. Also there was found an effect of affective empathy and children with DBD and a high level of CU-traits. Further, proactive aggression was associated to less affective empathy. However, contrasting with some previous studies, there was no effect on the story task between children with DBD and normal controls. Some critical remarks about the division in groups, story task and suggestions for future study are given.