- Despite evidence of impairments in social cognition in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), systematic investigations of empathic responding in this population have not been conducted. The objectives of the current study were to investigate empathic responding in patients with BD in varying states of illness and to determine whether course of illness variables and symptom severity predicted responding. Twenty well-characterized patients with BD and 20 matched healthy control subjects completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and the Social Adjustment Scale Self-Report (SAS-SR), self-report measures of cognitive and emotional empathy and of psychosocial functioning, respectively. Patients with BD reported significantly reduced levels of cognitive empathy ('Perspective Taking') and higher levels of personal distress in response to others' negative experiences than did controls. Altered affective empathic abilities correlated significantly with reduced psychosocial functioning in family, social and occupational domains and with increased symptom severity. This study provides preliminary evidence of alterations in empathic responding in patients with BD. Alterations in the ability to adopt the perspective of others may contribute to the difficulties in social communication inherent in this patient population. Additional studies, involving larger samples, are required to determine the contribution of social cognitive performance to impaired social functioning in BD.