Affective empathy training in the treatment of conduct-disordered adolescents

Date of Completion

January 1992


Psychology, Clinical




The role played by enhanced social skills, empathy and prosocial behavior in the reduction of aggression in youth was first suggested by Adler (1931, 1939) who held that the development of social interest was essential in the treatment of delinquent adolescents. Cognitive behavioral skill training and affective enhanced empathy skill training have to date focused on elementary school aged children, and, while having been shown to be of benefit in reducing conduct disordered behavior these reductions have not been clinically significant. This research evaluated by both global and specific assessment measures the additive contribution of group therapies designed to enhance either cognitive based social skills or affective social skills in combination with pre-existing behaviorally based milieu therapy for late aged adolescent male juvenile delinquents (N = 57) adjudicated to secure treatment facilities.^ The results of this study did not demonstrate the hypothesized improvements in self esteem, affective empathy, cognitive social skills training and behavioral problems as a result of participation in enriched empathy treatment or cognitive social skills training. The study did find, collapsing over treatment groups and treatment sites, a modest but significant improvement as a result of treatment over time. The study also found that pre-existing rates of emotion empathy served as the best predictor of improvement in behavior problems.^ These findings extend previous research that suggests that problem solving social skills training are least effective with highly aggressive children and offender populations (Corrigan, 1991; Kazdin, 1991; Kendall & Braswell, 1985). The findings also suggest that affectively enhanced social skills training must be carefully titrated because aggressive youth typically misinterpret ambiguous emotional stimuli as signalling aggressive intent (Dodge & Somberg, 1987). This study also provides continued support for the hypothesis that multi-axial treatment interventions are required for success with highly aggressive delinquent populations. ^