Understanding Gender as a Moderator of the Relationship between Dimensions of Psychopathy and Affective Empathy

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Catherine Lutz Zois


A lack of empathy has historically been associated with the psychopathy construct, both in clinical descriptions, and theoretical conceptualizations. One factor to consider when attempting to understand the association between psychopathy and empathy is gender. Engel et al. (2023) examined gender as a moderator of the relationship between the dimensions of the triarchic model of psychopathy (i.e., boldness, meanness, and disinhibition; Patrick et al., 2010) and both cognitive and affective empathy. They found that gender moderated the relationship between meanness and empathetic concern, a facet of affective empathy, such that women high in meanness exhibited stronger deficits in affective empathy than men high in meanness. The current study utilized data from 282 college students to understand the results of Engel et al. (2023). A double moderated mediation model was tested to better understand why, and under what circumstances, gender moderated the relationship between certain dimensions of psychopathy (i.e., meanness, and possibly disinhibition) and affective empathy. Based on theory linking alexithymia to empathy deficits among those with various forms of psychopathology (Valdespino et al., 2017) and research demonstrating a positive relationship between psychopathy and alexithymia (Lander et al., 2012; Ridings & Lutz-Zois, 2014) and a negative relationship between alexithymia and empathy (Jonason & Kruse, 2013), it was expected that alexithymia would mediate the relationship between both meanness and disinhibition and affective empathy. Further, it was expected that the path from meanness or disinhibition to alexithymia would be moderated by gender such that women show stronger positive relationships between both two dimensions of psychopathy and alexithymia. Lastly, based on the findings of Brown et al. (2018), this gender moderation effect was expected to be stronger for women who have experienced invalidating childhood environments. While the results of the present study did not support the main hypotheses, follow-up analyses revealed evidence for simple mediation such that alexithymia served as a mediator of the relationship between disinhibition and affective empathy. Such results align with previous research and theoretical predictions. Study limitations and possible directions for future research will be discussed.


Clinical Psychology, Psychology, psychopathy, affective empathy, gender, boldness, meanness, disinhibition, alexithymia, invalidating childhood environment, moderation, mediation

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