Evaluator Empathy in Psychopathy Interviews



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The psychological literature posits two distinct outlooks on the use of empathy in forensic evaluations. On the one hand, some authors maintain that the use of empathy within a forensic evaluation constitutes manipulation on the part of the evaluator, imbuing defendants with a false sense of therapeutic alliance (Shuman, 1993). On the other hand, authors of more recent articles suggest that, when properly regulated, empathy can convey a sense of professionalism and respect on the part of the forensic evaluator that might ultimately prove helpful in gaining the defendant’s cooperation (Brodsky & Wilson, 2013). The current study examined whether or not evaluator empathy influences interviewees’ perceptions of evaluators and evaluator-interviewee alliance. Undergraduate participants were interviewed by either an empathetic or non-empathetic clinician about antisocial and psychopathic personality traits. Imbedded in the interview were 10 forced-choice (yes vs. no) criterion questions about undesirable behavior (e.g., Have you ever been accused of lying?). Participants completed measures of psychopathy and normative personality traits approximately 5-7 days before being interviewed. Following the interview, participants completed measures of psychopathy, their use of impression management strategies during the interview, perceived alliance with the evaluator, and their perceptions of the evaluator’s level of empathy. Evaluators completed measures of participant personality traits, psychopathy, and impression management strategies. Findings indicated a stronger sense of alliance between participants and empathetic evaluators, however those interviewed by an empathetic evaluator did not admit to more undesirable behavior. Empathetic evaluators rated participants significantly lower in psychopathy, and reported less impression management on the part of participants when compared to non-empathetic evaluators.