Analog of parental empathy: Association with physical child abuse risk and punishment intentions

Academic Article


  • Objectives: Current research has been inconsistent in corroborating that parents' compromised empathy is associated with elevated physical child abuse risk, perhaps in part because of an emphasis on dispositional empathy rather than empathy directed at their own children. Research has also relied on self-reports of empathy that are susceptible to participant misrepresentation. The present study utilized an analog task of parental empathy to investigate the association of parental empathy toward one's own child with physical child abuse potential and with their tendency to punish perceived child misbehavior. Methods: A sample of 135 mothers and their 4-9 year old children were recruited, with mothers estimating their children's emotional reactions using a behavioral simulation of parental empathy. Mothers also provided self-reports on two measures of child abuse potential, a measure of negative attributions and expected punishment of children using vignettes, as well as a traditional measure of dispositional empathic concern and perspective-taking. Results: Findings suggest that parental demonstration of poorer empathic ability on the analog task was significantly related to increased physical abuse potential, likelihood to punish, and negative child attributions. However, self-reported dispositional empathy exhibited the pattern of inconsistent associations previously observed in the literature. Conclusions: Parental empathy appears to be a relevant target for prevention and intervention programs. Future research should also consider similar analog approaches to investigate such constructs to better uncover the factors that elevate abuse risk. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rodriguez CM
  • Start Page

  • 493
  • End Page

  • 499
  • Volume

  • 37
  • Issue

  • 8