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The nature and extent of emotion recognition and empathy impairments in children showing disruptive behaviour referred into a crime prevention programme

Hunnikin, Laura M., Wells, Amy E., Ash, Daniel P. and Van Goozen, Stephanie H. M. 2020. The nature and extent of emotion recognition and empathy impairments in children showing disruptive behaviour referred into a crime prevention programme. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 29 , pp. 363-371. 10.1007/s00787-019-01358-w

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Childhood disruptive behaviour has been linked to later antisocial and criminal behaviour. Emotion recognition and empathy impairments, thought to be caused by inattention to the eye region, are hypothesised to contribute to antisocial and criminal behaviour. This is the first study to simultaneously examine emotion recognition and empathy impairments, their relationship, and the mechanism behind these impairments, in children with disruptive behaviour. We hypothesised that children with disruptive behaviour would exhibit negative emotion recognition and cognitive and affective empathy impairments, but that these impairments would not be due to reduced attention to the eye region. We expected these emotion impairments to be driven by disruptive behaviour. We also expected a relationship between emotion recognition and cognitive empathy only. Ninety-two children with disruptive behaviour, who were participating in a police crime prevention programme and rated by their schoolteacher using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (DB; mean age 8.8 years, 80% male), took part. There was a comparison group of 58 typically developing children (TD; mean age 9.7 years, 78% male). All children completed emotion recognition and empathy tasks, both with concurrent eye tracking to assess social attention. Not only were DB children significantly impaired in negative emotion and neutral emotion recognition, and in cognitive and affective empathy compared to the TD children, but severity of disruptive behaviour also predicted intensity of emotion impairments. There were no differences in social attention to the eye region. Negative emotion recognition and empathy impairments are already present in an identifiable group of children displaying disruptive behaviour. These findings provide evidence to encourage the use of targeted interventions.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Additional Information: This article was (co-)authored by Cardiff NDAU researchers
Publisher: Springer Verlag
ISSN: 1018-8827
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 June 2019
Date of Acceptance: 26 May 2019
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2021 02:24

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