Term of Award

Spring 2016

Degree Name

Master of Science in Experimental Psychology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Department

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 1

Nicholas Holtzman

Committee Member 2

Chad Posick

Committee Member 3

Michael Vitacco

Abstract

Psychopathy is a disorder encompassing a distinct set of interpersonal, affective, and behavioral traits including lack of empathy, manipulativeness, impulsivity, aggressiveness, and social deviance (Hare, 2003). Since psychopathic traits are linked with deviant behavioral outcomes and the prevalence rates are relatively high within forensic and community populations, interventions designed to target the core personality deficits and reduce psychopathic tendencies are needed. The current study specifically focused on one of the most characteristic deficits in psychopathy, the inherent lack of empathy. This study sought to examine the effects of perspective-taking on empathy-related attitudes characteristically lacking in psychopathy, including congruent affective reactions, empathic concern, perceived closeness with the target, and prosocial helping behaviors. Based on previous research showing that perspective-taking increases empathic responses (e.g., Myers, Laurent, & Hodges, 2014), it was hypothesized that perspective-taking would lead to an increase in all four empathy-related attitudes for college students exhibiting high levels of psychopathy. To test this hypothesis, 296 college students listened to a radio broadcast about a young woman in need with no instructions or with specific perspective-taking instructions (e.g., “feel with target” or “imagine-self as target”) and completed measures assessing psychopathic tendencies, subsequent emotional reactions, perceived closeness with the target, and prosocial helping. A series of analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) was utilized to test the main hypotheses. Results indicate that asking individuals high in the callous affect traits of psychopathy to imagine themselves as the target led to increased feelings of sadness. In contrast, asking individuals high in the interpersonal manipulation traits of psychopathy or in the erratic lifestyle traits of psychopathy to feel with the target led to decreased empathic concern for the target. These findings increase our understanding of the relationship between psychopathy, perspective-taking, and empathy-related attitudes and results imply that perspective-taking may have differential effects among those high in psychopathy. Future studies should attempt to replicate these findings and modify the current methodology to address limitations.

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