Publication Date

2011

Abstract

Empathy is an important pro-social behaviour critical to a positive client–therapist relationship. Therapist anxiety has been linked to reduced ability to empathise and lower client satisfaction with therapy. However, the nature of the relationship between anxiety and empathy is currently unclear. The current study investigated the effect of experimentally-induced anxiety on empathic responses elicited during three different perspective-taking tasks. Perspective-taking was manipulated within-subjects with all participants (N = 52) completing imagine-self, imagine-other and objective conditions. A threat of shock manipulation was used to vary anxiety between-subjects. Participants in the threat of shock condition reported higher levels of anxiety during the experiment and lower levels of empathy-related distress for the targets than participants in the control condition. Perspective-taking was associated with higher levels of empathy-related distress and concern compared to the objective condition. The present results suggest that perspective-taking can to a large extent mitigate the influence of heightened anxiety on an individual’s ability to empathise.

Document Type

Journal Article

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