Distinct Empathy Profiles in Callous Unemotional and Autistic Traits: Investigating Unique and Interactive Associations with Affective and Cognitive Empathy

  • Giorgos GeorgiouEmail author
  • Chara A. Demetriou
  • Kostas A. Fanti


Empathy deficits are a hallmark of both callous-unemotional (CU) and autistic traits. However, it is unclear whether each trait is associated with deficits in distinct empathy subcomponents. The aim of the current study was to investigate the main and interactive effects of CU and autistic traits in predicting affective and cognitive empathy. We used data of 163 children (Mage = 7.30, SD = 1.42, 44.2% girls), selected from a large community sample (N = 1652). To ensure variability in empathy, we recruited participants with either low (1 standard-deviation below the mean; n = 78) or average to high (n = 85) levels of empathy. Partial correlation and regression analysis revealed that autistic traits were negatively associated with cognitive empathy, whereas CU traits were negatively related with both cognitive and affective empathy. Importantly, this is the first study testing the moderating effects of gender, revealing that CU traits negatively predicted affective empathy only among girls high on autistic traits. Findings can be used to understand the different empathy profiles of children with CU or autistic traits, and inform the development of effective interventions.


Affective empathy Cognitive empathy Autistic traits Callous-unemotional traits Pre-school children 


Compliance with ethical standards


The project was funded by 2014 Leventis Foundation grants and the University of Cyprus.

Conflict of Interest

Georgiou Giorgos, Demetriou A. Chara and Fanti A. Kostas declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee (Centre of Educational Research and Assessment of Cyprus, Pedagogical Institute, Ministry of Education and Culture and Cyprus National Bioethics Committee) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CyprusNicosiaCyprus

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