Article

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 127-139

First online:

Interrelations of empathy, cognition, and moral reasoning with dimensions of juvenile delinquency

  • Ming LeeAffiliated withDepartments of Educational Psychology and Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
  • , Norman M. PrenticeAffiliated withDepartments of Educational Psychology and Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

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Abstract

The interrelations of a variety of indices of sociocognitive development (empathy, role-taking, logical cognition, and moral reasoning) were studied in delinquent and nondelinquent adolescents. Delinquent males (grouped into psychopathic, neurotic, and subcultural subgroups) and a matched nondelinquent comparison group were administered individually two empathy scales (the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index and the Mehrabian and Epstein Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy), an adaptation of Byrne's and Flavell's role-taking tasks, two Piagetian cognitive tasks, and two of Kohlberg's structured moral dilemmas. Delinquents as a group displayed significantly more immature modes of role-taking, logical cognition, and moral reasoning than did nondelinquents. The delinquent subgroups, however, did not significantly differ from one another on these dimensions. Role-taking, logical cognition, and moral reasoning were significantly related to one another. Anticipated differences in level of empathy between the delinquent and nondelinquent adolescents failed to occur. A number of interpretations for this unexpected finding are offered.