Introduction: Empathy is an interpersonal process impaired in schizophrenia. Past studies have mainly used questionnaires or performance-based tasks with static cues to measure cognitive and affective empathy. We used the Empathic Accuracy Task (EAT) designed to capture dynamic aspects of empathy by using videoclips in which perceivers continuously judge emotionally charged stories. We compared individuals with schizophrenia with a healthy comparison group and assessed correlations among EAT and three other commonly used empathy measures.
Method: Patients (n = 92) and a healthy comparison group (n = 42) matched for age, gender and education completed the EAT, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, Questionnaire of Cognitive and Affective Empathy and Faux Pas. Differences between groups were analyzed and correlations were calculated between empathy measurement instruments.
Results: The groups differed in EAT performance, with the comparison group outperforming patients. A moderating effect was found for emotional expressivity of the target: while both patients and the comparison group scored low when judging targets with low expressivity, the comparison group performed better than patients with more expressive targets. Though there were also group differences on the empathy questionnaires, EAT performance did not correlate with questionnaire scores.
Conclusions: Individuals with schizophrenia benefit less from the emotional expressivity of other people than the comparison group, which contributes to their impaired empathic accuracy. The lack of correlation between the EAT and the questionnaires suggests a distinction between self-report empathy and actual empathy performance. To explore empathic difficulties in real life, it is important to use instruments that take the interpersonal perspective into account. (C) 2019 Published by Elsevier B.V.