Empathic deficits in sexual offenders: An integration of affective, social, and cognitive constructs

Christmas N. Covell, Mario J. Scalora

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


A number of researchers have suggested that lack of empathy is a critical feature in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders. However, difficulties with definitions of empathy and corresponding measures of that construct have led to limited and disparate empirical findings supporting this claim. Such findings may be due to a definition of empathy that fails to incorporate other key factors related to sexual offending. Factors such as inaccurate social perceptions, cognitive distortions, deficits in interpersonal intimacy, maladaptive emotional regulation abilities, and other socio-cognitive deficiencies thought to contribute to sexually assaultive behavior also share a number of core developmental features with affect and emotional responding. As socio-cognitive abilities tend to develop simultaneously at times as humans mature, it is suspected that social, cognitive, and affective skills impact one another's development and ultimately dictate the expression of empathy in adulthood. Accordingly, deficits in social skills, interpersonal intimacy, and cognitive processes necessary to emotional stability and appropriate social interaction may be critical to the development and expression of empathic deficits and subsequent efforts to treat or reduce such deficits in sexual offenders. This paper will review and integrate literature examining the relationship of various socio-cognitive factors to empathic deficits in sexual offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-270
Number of pages20
JournalAggression and Violent Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Cognitive distortions
  • Empathy
  • Sexual offenders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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