The Relationship of Empathy to Self-Reported Delinquency

David P. Farrington, University of Cambridge

A recent meta-analysis of 33 studies (Jolliffe & Farrington, in press) found a negative relationship between empathy (the ability to understand and share in another's emotional state or context) and offending, but this relationship was reduced considerably when only those studies that controlled for intelligence and socioeconomic status were examined. Furthermore, all of the studies classified offenders as those who have been convicted or incarcerated for an offense. Convicted and incarcerated offenders are an extreme group compared to those who commit offenses, and further, empathy levels may be influenced by incarceration.

This paper will present the findings of a study of over 350 British students (mean age 14.8). Measures include empathy and various forms of self-reported delinquency as well as intelligence, socio-economic status, impulsivity and parental supervision. This is the first study to compare the empathy level of those who self-report offenses to those that do not. The inclusion of the other factors known to associated with offending (e.g. intelligene, SES, impulsivity) allows for the independent influence of empathy on offending to be more accurately assessed.

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Updated 05/20/2006