Revisiting the Association Between Self-Reported Empathy and Behavioral Assessments of Social Cognition

Academic Article


  • Previous research has shown a weak association between self-reported empathy and performance on behavioral assessments of social cognition. However, previous studies have often overlooked important distinctions within these multifaceted constructs (e.g., differences among the subcomponents of self-reported empathy, distinctions in tasks assessing lower vs. high-level social cognition, and potential covariates that represent competing predictors). Using data from three separate studies (total N = 2,376), we tested whether the tendency to take the perspective of others (i.e., perspective-taking), and the tendency to catch the emotions of others (i.e., emotional contagion for positive and negative emotions), were associated with performance on tasks assessing lower to higher-level social–cognitive ability (i.e., emotion recognition, theory of mind, and empathic accuracy) and affect sharing. Results showed little evidence of an association between any of the self-reported empathy measures and either social–cognitive ability or affect sharing. Using several large samples, our findings add additional evidence to previous work showing that self-report measures of empathy are not valid proxies of behaviorally assessed social cognition. Moreover, we find that the ease with which individuals recognize and understand their own emotions (i.e., alexithymia) is more related to social–cognitive abilities and affect sharing, than their tendency to take the perspective of others, or to vicariously experience the emotions of others
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 28551147
  • Author List

  • Sunahara CS; Rosenfield D; Alvi T; Wallmark Z; Lee J; Fulford D; Tabak BA
  • Start Page

  • 3304
  • End Page

  • 3322
  • Volume

  • 151
  • Issue

  • 12