The Varieties of Self-Reported Empathic Tendencies Open Access

Murphy, Brett (Summer 2019)

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Emotionally empathic tendencies can manifest in a wide range of forms. Existing measures of such tendencies often differ widely in item content, but no individual questionnaire distinguishably measures more than one or two narrow aspects of the broader construct. This dissertation project aimed to develop new multi-dimensional emotional empathy scales that effectively measure a broader range of empathy domains.

In Study 1, I administered a comprehensive collection of more than 200 potential empathy items to an online community sample (n = 712). Using a wide range of techniques, including bifactor modeling and item response theory (IRT) methods, I constructed and preliminarily evaluated nine different scales of empathic tendencies. Based upon potential limitations revealed in analyses, I subsequently created additional items to potentially buttress the new scales.

In Study 2, I administered these new scales to another online community sample (n = 335), while also assessing a range of external variables related to antagonism, self-compassion and emotional distress, and schizotypal personality. I employed a range of analytical techniques to validate the new scales and examine their fine-grained nomological networks.

This research is situated within an extensive discussion of the history of the empathy construct and current controversies regarding its definitional core and boundaries. Among the many theoretical implications generated by these studies, three are of particular note. First, empathic contagion is not a unidimensional construct, as contagion for the positive emotions of others is strongly distinguishable from contagion for negative emotions. Second, empathic approach-avoidance tendencies, which have been neglected in many past studies, appear to be a critical research domain. Third, proto-Rogerian aspects of empathy, particularly tendencies to be supportive confidante listeners for others, should be a renewed area of interest. The new questionnaire scales generated in this project may serve as valuable tools in future research.

Table of Contents

Introductory Sections. 2

Highlights of the Intellectual History of the Empathy Construct 11

Current Conceptualizations of Empathy. 47

Current Self Report Measures and Potential Areas of Improvement 71

Employing Bifactor Modeling in Scale Creation. 86

Methodological Overview of Present Studies. 102

Addressing Concerns with M-Turk Samples. 115

Study 1: Initial Development of General and Specific Content Scales. 121

Methods. 121

Nomological Networks Results. 147

Study 1 Discussion. 153

Study 2: Refinement of Scales and Exploration of Nomological Networks. 159

Methods. 159

Nomological Networks Results. 177

General Discussion. 184

Overarching Implications for Empathy Conceptualization. 187

Measurement Advances of New Self-Report Empathy Scales. 192

Fine-Grained Associations with External Variables. 200

Limitations and Future Directions. 206

References. 210

Tables and Figures. 257

Appendix A. Empathy items administered in Study 1. 276

Appendix B. Finalized GFEC Scale and Specific Content Scales. 286

Appendix C. Test Information Function (TIF) Curves, Studies 1 and 2. 290

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