Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
James E. Kantner
Past research has demonstrated that empathy, traditionally defined as the ability to discriminate, label and then experience the emotional response of another, acts as an inhibitor of aggressive behavior. Additional evidence has shown an increase in empathic functioning can be the result of various empathy training strategies. It has recently been hypothesized that aggressive behavior might be decreased as empathic functioning increases. The present study sought to determine if an inverse relationship existed between empathy and socially deviant behavior, which is a less extreme degree of aggression characterized by disruptiveness and attention seeking. In addition, it was hypothesized that if such a link existed, empathy training could serve to decrease manifest social deviancy. A final goal of this study was to provide additional normative data for the devices used which are fairly new to empathy research with delinquent adolescents.
19 female and 21 male delinquent adolescents from Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana, Illinois were administered the Revised Mehrabian Empathy Scale and the Self-Appraisal Form of the Jesness Behavior Checklist. Short-term empathy training was provided for half the group followed by readministration of both devices to all the adolescents. In addition, teachers and houseparents completed The Observer Form of the Jesness Behavior Checklist measuring socially deviant behavior.
The findings did not support the negative correlation between empathy and socially deviant behavior nor was an increase in empathic level or a decrease in social deviancy demonstrated through empathy training.
It is suggested that while empathy does inhibit aggression, it does not serve as a modifier of socially deviant behavior. It was also proposed that traditional empathy training may not be effective for a delinquent adolescent population with aggressive histories due to discrimination learning. A new training format was postulated.
While the Revised Mehrabian Empathy Scale was shown to be a reliable measurement device for empathy, the Jesness Behavior Checklist was suggested to be impractical for delinquent adolescents, demonstrating a low, inconsistent correlation between the observer- and self-ratings, and a low test-retest reliability.
Fisk, Terrie L., "The Relationship Between Empathy and Socially Deviant Behaviors in Delinquent Adolescents" (1978). Masters Theses. 3240.
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