Study: Cognitive and affective empathy in younger and older individuals

Oksana Ze, Patrizia Thoma & Boris Suchan

Objective: We aimed to elucidate how cognitive and affective empathy differ across age groups and how these differences might relate to executive dysfunction.

Methods: In study I, we assessed 108 healthy participants in three consecutive age groups (20–39 years/40–59 years/60–79 years) using a self-report measure of trait cognitive and affective empathy (interpersonal reactivity index: IRI). In study II, 54 younger (20–35 years) and 54 older (55–70 years) individuals completed a test of state cognitive and affective empathy (multifaceted empathy test: MET). Additionally, measures of cognitive flexibility, response inhibition, and working memory were administered.

Results: Older and younger adults were comparable with regard to trait empathy (study I).

Contrary to most previous findings, older adults did not show impaired state-cognitive empathy, but scored higher on subtests of state-affective empathy relative to the younger group, irrespective of the valence of the stimulus material