Empathetic responding in psychopathy subtypes: does gender equivalence between offender and victim matter?

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology, Clinical


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Catherine Lutz Zois


To address inconsistencies in the literature on psychopathy and empathy, I employed a between-subjects design using a sample of 142 male and female offenders. Specifically, I used various types of empathy measures to investigate if gender equivalence between offender and victim uniquely facilitated empathetic responding in psychopathy subtypes. Participants completed measures of psychopathy, victim empathy, and general empathy. Psychopathy, along with its primary and secondary variants, was assessed by two validated self-report measures. To measure implicit victim empathy, participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions (i.e., male or female victim) in which they listened to an individual describe his or her victimization (i.e., being physically assaulted). While listening to the vignette, participants wore a heart rate monitor and measurements were taken to determine if participants experienced physiological changes in response to the empathy-provoking stimuli. To assess explicit, affective and cognitive victim empathy, and general empathy, I administered questionnaires wherein participants reported how they felt while listening to the mock crime vignette, how they believed the victim felt, and how they generally empathized with others, respectively. I hypothesized that secondary psychopathy would be positively related to empathy measures describing gender equivalent victims, but would be negatively related to measures describing gender nonequivalent victims, and to measures of general empathy. Analyses did not support Hypothesis 1, in that secondary psychopathy did not interact with gender equivalence to predict differences in empathy scores across different victim and offender gender contexts, nor did it significantly predict general empathy scores. Additionally, I hypothesized that primary psychopathy would be negatively related to the measure of implicit victim empathy, but positively related to all explicit empathy measures. Hypothesis 2 was not supported by analyses in that individuals high in primary psychopathy did not score significantly different on the implicit empathy measure, and they reported significantly less general empathy and affective victim empathy than individuals low in primary psychopathy. Interestingly, although participants high in primary psychopathy reported significantly less affective victim empathy than their low in psychopathy counterparts, the magnitude of the effect was smaller when they listened to a victim of their same gender compared to a victim of their opposite gender. Limitations, future directions, and implications of these mixed findings are discussed.


Empathy Sex differences, Psychopaths Sex differences, Criminals Sex differences, Psychology, psychopathy, primary, secondary, empathy, victim

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Copyright © 2017, author