[Solved] elevated empathy in adults following childhood trauma review


The research conducted by Greenberg et al. engaged readers into looking at the positive character traits someone can gain due to a traumatic experience. The paper repeatedly mentioned how a traumatic experience causes depression, extreme sadness, and how people’s main focus is always the negative. However due to multiple studies, self reports and non-clinical samples they were able to effectively go through with their hypothesis since a lot of the data collected effectively supported the hypothesis that they stated which was the positive correlation with various components of empathy. The study suggested how people who experience traumatic experiences actually gain another person’s perspective when put in a tough situation. They are able to put themselves into another individuals shoes and understand both their mental and emotional state and that is a lifelong characteristic that a person can have.


The subject discussed in this paper will be about ‘Elevated empathy in adults following childhood trauma.’ The main hypothesis of the paper was that trauma can also have a positive end result besides just negative. Even though there is a great number of research on the negative side effects of trauma, there is new rising evidence that after a trauma an individual can emotionally grow whether it relates to having empathy, compassion, understanding and/or relating to other people. The paper addresses the correlation between trait empathy in adulthood. It then continues to suggest the negative impact that adults carry on through their life when they experience a traumatic experience. However it is also stated that “trauma provides an opportunity for growth and transformation.”(Greenberg et al, 2018,pg. 2) which leads to the opportunity to focus on the positive character traits that trauma can bring among adults. Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize another person’s thought and feelings and respond to with appropriate emotion. Empathy is then divided into two categories in the research:Cognitive empathy and Affective empathy. Cognitive empathy is defined as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and to be able to imagine both emotional and mental state. Affective empathy is defined as the drive to respond to another person’s mental states with an appropriate emotion. Which is what the researchers are trying to find out if the participants have or not.

Subjects and Materials

There were two studies that were needed for the research. The second study was used to replicate results using a different sample. For the first study, Study 1 , there were 387 participants The participants ranged in age from 19 to 65 years old. 117 participants were male, and 269 were female, and there was 1 individual whose gender was not specified. 308 participants were white. There was no requirement of information regarding participants clinical diagnosis or records. The participants were rounded up from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

For study 1, the measure was Empathy. All the participants completed the 40-item Empathy Quotient. The EQ is a self report measure of both categories of Empathy, which were cognitive and affective. The participants were asked to basically choose whether or not they agreed or disagreed with a statement listed. They were able to choose from the four following options:strongly disagree, slightly disagree, slightly agree, strongly agree. They were given certain statements ranging from understanding someone else’s feelings, or if they do no even react to someone else’s emotions. There was also a Childhood Traumatic Event Scale that participants had to undertake, which asked about 5 specific traumatic events that happened on before or at the age of 17. The events ranged from death, divorce, rape, or and other triggering abuse. For the statistical Analysis, about 410 participants completed the test but only 387 were able to fully answer the questions. Of the 387 participants, 309 indicated that they experiences more than one traumatic event out of the 5, they were divided into the trauma group. The participants who did not experience and of the traumatic events belonged to the ‘no trauma group’.

For the second study, Study 2 included 442 participants who were rounded up from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. They ranged from the ages of 18 to 65. There was 162 males, and 277 females. 350 of the participants were white. For Study 2, the measure was empathy. The participants completed the 28-item IRI, which measure dispositional empathy. The IRI consists of a total scale score known as Global Empathy. The same Childhood Traumatic Event Scale was used same as Study 1. For the Statistical Analysis, there were 491 participants who finished the test, but 57 of the participants did not fully answer one of the trauma questions. Of the 442 participants, 348 said they did experience one or more trauma, which then sent them to the “trauma group” while the remaining participants said they did not experience and childhood trauma, which then sent them to the “no trauma group”.


For Study 1, it resulted that the affective component of empathy is strongly linked to empathy scores in adulthood. ACOVAs were used, listing group type as the independent variable, and EQ scores as the dependent variable.They then examined the Traumas they used and the EQ scores. The table used in page 4 shows the positive correlation between the two both the group type and EQ scores. The only one that did not display the positive correlation was sexual abuse. Cognitive Empathy was positively correlated with death of a close friend and/or family. Affective Empathy was positively correlated with parent misconduct, sexual abuse, and other traumatic experiences. Social Skills positively correlated with violence.

For Study 2, the results showed similar findings and even more information relating to study 1. ACOVAs were used and group type was listed as the independent variable, while global empathy and scores were listed as the dependent variable. Study 2 showed more empathy scores in the trauma group compared to people that did not experience that much trauma or no trauma at all. For trauma severity, there were many relation components between a trauma, and empathy. They also examined the correlation between IRI scores and the age when the trauma happened using ANOVAs. However there was no significant difference between the age groups.


The results did end up supporting the original hypothesis stated in the beginning. The hypothesis stated how a traumatic experience can give an adult the positive characteristic of empathy, and the result were able to prove the correlation between the two. The particular findings helped provide the literature with proof, not only that it also helped distinguish the different kind of empathies a person can have. The study also helped find that there was no significant finding on a specific age at the time of trauma which is also important to know specially if another researcher is focused on solely the age as well. The paper stated that “empathy may be an ‘end-product’ of posttraumatic growth that is longer lasting”(Greenberg et al, 2018,pg. 8) which is very true, some times we may feel that a traumatic experience can stop us completely, however empathy might be our overall end goal that can help individuals heal and overcome their trauma.

Overall, the study helped me understand a little bit more of correlation. I believe that the study was helpful in dealing with traumatic stress. Someone going through a traumatic time in their life, or someone that is triggered by something may find the study helpful. The strengths of the study is the hypothesis. I believe they had a strong hypothesis, and a hypothesis that will engage a reader’s attention. Not only that, the whole study was able to show the different categories of empathy, which where affective empathy and cognitive empathy. This was important because there were more examples to use for empathy which helps further the discussion of how someone that has gone through traumatic experiences react to normal day to day interactions. Everyone can have different empathies, and not everyone shares the same type of empathy. The different empathies correlated with different traits such as social skills, or empathetic concern. One weakness that was even mentioned in the study itself was the self report aspect. This could be a downfall simply because people over exaggerate when they know they are being watched or questioned. Participants may also be underwhelmed, and a researcher may not be able to get a genuine answer. Not that I believe people will lie when it comes to traumatic experience but people might not want

to genuinely speak about something traumatic that has happened to them, so they might not fully speak or honestly choose how they feel about their traumatic experience. A way the research can be improved would be more in depth questions. I believe this has to be a long study, so there would be more in depth knowledge on the participants. I would also ask more questions based on and additional help they have received, such as therapy or group sessions that may have helped them deal with traumatic experiences, since that could be another reason as to why participants showed a positive correlation in the study.

In conclusion, the article is a good informational study that can help anyone going through traumatic stress. In Chapter 5 of Abnormal Psychology in page 186, there is a section speaking on traumatic experiences and how that can cause someone to have PTSD. They use an example of natural disaster such as earthquake. In areas where they are less natural disasters there is a low rate of PTSD compared to areas with a high chance of natural disasters. This is a specific case that can be helpful in relating to the study about empathy. If someone going through PTSD can take the assessment that was used for the original to find out information on their empathy. They can also take the assessments to see how they have changed ever since their traumatic experience relating to their empathetic side. The research will be helpful to anyone who wants to see their progress, or see if they have reached the ‘end-goal’ of empathy.


  1. Hooley, J. M., Butcher, J. N., Nock, M., & Mineka, S. (2017). Abnormal psychology.
  2. Boston: Pearson. Greenberg DM, Baron-Cohen S,Rosenberg N, Fonagy P, Rentfrow PJ (2018) Elevated empathy in adults following childhood trauma.PLoS ONE 13(10):e0203886. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.020388

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