Offenders are more likely than the general population to have experienced relationship trauma. They are also more likely to have lower empathy. To date, relationships between historical trauma and later empathic states have not been examined among offenders.
To explore the association between history of trauma in close personal relationships and empathy among offenders. Our research question is: Is such relational trauma associated with self-rated impairments in empathy?
All men with a primary school education and above at a single all-male prison in Jiangsu Province in China were invited to participate. The self-reported Interpersonal Reactivity Index was used to evaluate empathy, and the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey was to explore interpersonal trauma and classify such experiences.
Interpersonal trauma was associated with higher personal distress and lower empathic concern among men reporting relational trauma in adulthood, but only higher personal distress when the trauma reported was in childhood. Non-relational trauma was associated with higher empathic concern. Cognitive aspects of empathy varied little between groups.
Our findings add to the existing literature by making distinctions between the types of trauma and the age of key experience in its relationship to self-reported empathy. The differences found suggest that it may be helpful to consider planning any trauma-related interventions differently according to the type and age of trauma experiences.