Empathic communication among women with high or low social anxiety

Suzanne E. Byrne, Ronald M. Rapee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Evidence about empathy in people high in social anxiety has produced mixed outcomes. The current study aimed to compare cognitive and emotional forms of empathy among university women who were high or low in social anxiety. 

Methods: Empathy was assessed using both self-report and a directly observable social interaction task. Sixty adult women with either high or low levels of social anxiety completed a self-report measure of empathy and also engaged with a female confederate online. The interpersonal exchange included disclosure of a recent stressful experience by the confederate and participants’ responses were coded for indicators of cognitive and emotional empathy. 

Results were analysed with depression both controlled and not controlled. Results: When depression was statistically controlled, participants who were high in social anxiety demonstrated more robust indicators of empathy on both self-report and the interpersonal exchange for both cognitive and emotional measures of empathy. Results were very similar when depression was not statistically controlled, however the groups no longer differed significantly on the self-report measure of cognitive empathy. 

Conclusions: The implications for these findings on the interpersonal functioning of socially anxious individuals are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114–123
Number of pages10
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • social anxiety
  • empathy
  • interpersonal
  • social skills
  • theory of mind


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