Social Anxiety and Empathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Merle Pittelkow*, Marije aan het Rot, Lea Seidel, Nils Feyel, A. M. Roest

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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OBJECTIVE: This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to clarify the association between social anxiety and affective (AE) and cognitive empathy (CE).

METHODS: 1442 studies from PsycINFO, Medline, and EMBASE (inception-January 2020) were systematically reviewed. Included studies (N = 48) either predicted variance in empathy using social anxiety scores or compared empathy scores between socially anxious individuals and a control group.

RESULTS: Social anxiety and AE were statistically significantly positively associated, k = 14, r = .103 (95%CI [.003, .203]), z = 2.03, p = .043. Sex (QM (2) = 18.79, p <  .0001), and type of measures (QM (1 = 7.34, p = .007) moderated the association. Correlations were significant for male samples (rmale = .316, (95%CI [.200, .432])) and studies using self-report measures (rself-report = .162 (95%CI [.070, .254])). Overall, social anxiety and CE were not significantly associated, k = 52, r =-.021 (95%CI [-.075, .034]), z= -0.74, p = .459. Sample type moderated the association (QM (1) = 5.03, p < .0001). For clinical samples the association was negative (rclinical= -.112, (95%CI [-.201, -.017]).

CONCLUSION: There was evidence for a positive association between social anxiety and AE, but future studies are needed to verify the moderating roles of sex and type of measure. Besides, low CE might only hold for patients with SAD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102357
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
Early online date20-Jan-2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2021


  • social anxiety
  • affective empathy
  • cognitive empathy
  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis

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