Journal of Affective Disorders Reports (2020-12-01)

Empathy profiles differ by gender in people who have and have not attempted suicide

  • Paolo Scocco,
  • Emanuele Aliverti,
  • Elena Toffol,
  • Giuliana Andretta,
  • Giovanna Capizzi

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 2
p. 100024


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Background: High levels of empathy may inhibit hetero-aggressive behaviors; however, the role of empathy on suicide behaviors is still unknown. This study aimed to compare the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) empathic profiles of 56 patients hospitalized after a suicide attempt with those of 138 people who had never attempted suicide. Methods: Differences were tested with t-test and Chi-square test. The associations between attempted suicide and empathy scores were tested with linear regression models, controlling for sex and age. Latent Class Regression Analysis was applied to investigate the relationship between multivariate categorical empathy response items and suicide attempts, controlling for sex and age. Results: Suicide attempters scored significantly higher on the ‘Personal Distress’ and ‘Fantasy’ IRI subscales. Women in the control group had similar probabilities of belonging to the class of high or low Personal Distress and Fantasy levels, while women who had attempted suicide were more likely to have high scores at the same scales. Men in the control group had higher probabilities of scoring low at the Personal Distress and Fantasy subscales, while men who had attempted suicide had similar probabilities of belonging to the class with high or low scores. Limitations: The use of a self-administered tool may have introduced a gender-role stereotype bias in empathy assessment. Additionally, it was not possible to test the role of psychopathology. Conclusions: Our results suggest that distinct empathic profiles are associated with suicidal behavior, with a gender specific pattern. Addressing empathy constructs may help identifying suicidal individuals.