Empathy and prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress in 6- to 7-year olds diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
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- Deschamps, P.K.H., Schutter, D.J.L.G., Kenemans, J.L. et al. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2015) 24: 105. doi:10.1007/s00787-014-0535-x
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Empathy has been associated with decreased antisocial and increased prosocial behavior. This study examined empathy and prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress in disruptive behavior disorder (DBD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Six- and 7-year-old children with DBD (with and without ADHD) (n = 67) and with ADHD only (n = 27) were compared to typically developing children (TD) (n = 37). Parents and teachers rated affective empathy in response to sadness and distress on the Griffith Empathy Measure. Children reported affective empathic ability in response to sad story vignettes. Empathy-induced prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress was assessed with a computer task, the Interpersonal Response Task (IRT). Compared to TD, children with DBD (with and without ADHD) and those with ADHD only were rated as less empathic by their teachers, but not by their parents. No differences between groups were observed in children who reported affect correspondence. Children with DBD (with and without ADHD) showed less prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress compared to TD. Children with ADHD only did not differ from TD. An additional analysis comparing all children with a diagnosis to the TD group revealed that the difference in prosocial behavior remained after controlling for ADHD symptoms, but not after controlling for DBD symptoms. These findings of impaired empathy-induced prosocial behavior in response to sadness and distress in young children with DBD suggest that interventions to ameliorate peer relationships may benefit from targeting on increasing prosocial behavior in these children.