Empathy and Executive Functioning in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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The current study investigated the relationship between levels of empathy and executive functioning (EF; specifically attention, inhibition, working memory) in children with and without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD often experience impairments in EF. In addition to EF challenges, socioemotional deficits are frequently reported in these children. Successful social interaction relies on a child’s ability to understand the minds of other individuals, a term referred to as social cognition. The present study focused on empathy, one particular component of social cognition. Previous research exploring empathy has identified both an affective and a cognitive factor, which are now considered to be separate components of empathy. Explorations of empathy in children with ADHD have revealed mixed findings, with some studies reporting no differences in the empathy levels of children with and without ADHD. In contrast, a number of other studies have found impaired empathy in individuals with ADHD. The results of recent studies in developmental psychology point to an association between EF and social cognition. The present study included a final sample of 45 children, 20 with ADHD and 25 typically developing (TD), between the ages of 8 and 12 years. The Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory – Parent Report (CEFI-PR) was used to measure attention, inhibition, and working memory, and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was used to assess cognitive, affective, and total empathy. Overall, the present study demonstrated that children with ADHD have significantly lower levels of self-reported cognitive empathy when compared to TD children. The same pattern was observed in total empathy. No such differences were found in affective empathy scores. The study also confirmed that children with ADHD perform lower than TD children on EF measures of attention, inhibition, and working memory. Finally, the current study demonstrated a significant positive correlation between both total and cognitive empathy and the EFs of attention, inhibitory control, and working memory across all participants.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Empathy, Executive Functioning, Children
Friesen, K. (2019). Empathy and Executive Functioning in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.