Altered empathic responding in major depressive disorder: Relation to symptom severity, illness burden, and psychosocial outcome
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Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) demonstrate deficits in multiple social cognitive domains; however, systematic investigations of empathic responding have not been performed. Twenty patients with MDD completed two measures of empathy, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI: Davis, 1980, 1983) and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ: Spreng et al., 2009). Relative to matched controls, patients with MDD reported significantly reduced levels of empathy measured broadly on the TEQ and specifically in cognitive ('Perspective Taking') and affective ('Empathic Concern') domains captured by the IRI. A higher illness burden (i.e., greater number of past depressive episodes) was associated with greater reductions in perspective taking ability. This study provides early evidence of impaired empathic abilities in patients with MDD that may worsen with illness progression. Alternatively, reductions in perspective taking ability may contribute to a more severe course of illness in this population. Further longitudinal work is needed to characterize the relation between social cognitive performance and social functioning in this population.
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