Study: Examining empathy and its association with aggression in young Western Cape children


In a context of disturbing rates of violent crime, this pilot study initiated examination of the association between empathy and aggressive behaviour in young Western Cape children. Establishing which empathy measures are appropriate for our context was a primary concern.


Parent report measures of callous-unemotional traits and aggression performed well, however, the Griffith Empathy Measure, a well-established parent report scale, proved problematic. Empathy scores, particularly those for callous-unemotional traits, were associated with aggression.

We also found several associations between aspects of empathy, consistent with the international literature. Cognitive empathy, as measured by first-order false belief reasoning, was not well established, suggesting that other more complex social cognitive tasks were inappropriate for this age group in our context.