Self-rated and performance-based empathy in schizophrenia: The impact of cognitive deficits

People may be much less empathic than they think they are. It is not clear whether patients with schizophrenia who have impaired empathic abilities also exhibit diminished ability to accurately appraise their own such skills.

The present study aimed to examine:

(a) the accuracy of self-appraisal of empathy and

(b) the impact of specific cognitive functions on both self-rated and performance-based empathy in schizophrenia patients and healthy volunteers.

Self-reported empathy and performance-based empathy were assessed in 52 chronic patients with schizophrenia and 45 matched healthy participants with the empathy quotient and the empathy score in the Faux Pas test, respectively. Neuropsychological functioning and symptom severity were also assessed. No significant correlations between self-reported and performance-based empathy scores were found in patients, whereas these correlations were significant and positive in the control group, with the exception of Faux Pas recognition. Cognitive deficits, specifically in processing speed and theory of mind, negatively affected performance-based but not self-rated empathy in schizophrenia. Patients with less negative and more positive symptoms and lower set shifting ability reported higher empathic abilities. Self-reported empathy and empathic abilities do not show a simple relationship.

Our findings highlight a double deficit related to empathic responding in schizophrenia: diminished performance associated with cognitive deficits and inaccurate self-appraisal of empathic abilities.