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European Journal of PsychologicalA Wied et2007;
2007 al.: Index
Hogrefe &Vol. of Publishers
Huber Empath y

Bryant’s Empathy Index

A Closer Examination of its Internal Structure
Minet de Wied1, Cora Maas2, Stephanie van Goozen3, Marjolijn Vermande1,
Rutger Engels4, Wim Meeus1, Walter Matthys5, and Paul Goudena1
Department of Child and Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 2Department of
Methodology and Statistics, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 3School of Psychology, Cardiff
University, UK, 4Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands,
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience,
University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands

Abstract. The present study examined the internal structure of Bryant’s (1982) Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents, a 22-item
questionnaire measure of dispositional affective empathy. Third graders (n = 817), fourth to sixth graders (n = 82), and eighth graders (n
= 1,079) were studied. Factor analyses revealed that the empathy index is multidimensional, encompassing two subscales. The same
two-factor solution emerged in all samples. The first factor, labeled empathic sadness, showed good reliability in the two larger samples.
Sex differences were established in each sample, with girls reporting more empathic sadness than boys. The second factor, reflecting
attitudes rather than feelings, showed weak reliability in all samples, and poor differentiation between the sexes in the two younger age
samples. The findings seriously challenge the validity of the 22-item empathy index. Improvement of the scale as a measure of affective
empathy is indicated.

Keywords: empathy index, children, adolescents, internal structure, sex differences

Introduction fective empathy in children 6 years and older. The IECA,

derived from Mehrabian and Epsteins’s (1972) adult mea-
sure of emotional empathy, has been designed to assess
In research on empathy, a distinction is typically made be- emotional responsiveness, rather than accuracy of cogni-
tween affective and cognitive empathy (see e.g., Davis, tive insight. The scale contains items that tap a range of
1996; Duan & Hill, 1996; Miller & Eisenberg, 1988; Hoff- affective reactions, including empathy (“Seeing a
man, 2000). Affective empathy concerns the vicarious ex- (boy/girl) who is crying makes me feel like crying”), sym-
perience of emotions consistent with those of others, that pathy (“It makes me sad to see a (boy/girl) who can’t find
is, feeling with others. The cognitive component involves anyone to play with”), and personal distress (“I get upset
understanding another’s feelings, whether by means of when I see a (boy/girl) being hurt”). Both sympathy and
simple associations or more complex perspective-taking feelings of personal distress may stem from empathy, but
processes. Different empathy indexes have been developed differ in that sympathy is an other-oriented emotion (feel-
to assess aspects of either affective or cognitive empathy, ing for another person) and that personal distress is a self-
or both (see e.g., Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990; Miller & Ei- focused aversive reaction (Eisenberg, 2000). Nonetheless,
senberg, 1988). Questionnaire measures of empathy (self- indexes of empathy quite often involve the assessment of
and other-reports) are generally used to assess dispositional empathy-related responses (including sympathy and per-
(trait) empathy. Frequently used adult measures of empath- sonal distress), rather than pure empathy. To date, the IECA
ic tendencies are the Hogan Empathy Scale (HES; Hogan, is the only self-report questionnaire to assess empathic ten-
1969), designed to assess cognitive empathy; the Question- dencies in young children, and has been used in numerous
naire Measure of Emotional Empathy (QMEE; Mehrabian studies with children and adolescents (e.g., Cohen & Stray-
& Epstein, 1972), designed to assess affective empathy; er, 1996; Eisenberg et al., 1988; Hastings, Zahn-Waxler,
and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1983), Robinson, Usher, & Bridges, 2000; Strayer & Roberts,
which measures aspects of both affective and cognitive em- 1997a).
pathy. Bryant (1982) examined the reliability and validity of
The Empathy Index for Children and Adolescents the index, using first graders, fourth graders, and seventh
(IECA) is a 22-item self-report questionnaire developed graders. Two different response formats were employed: a
and validated by Bryant (1982) to assess dispositional af- child two-point (yes/no) response format in the first- and

© 2007 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2007; Vol. 23(2):99–104
DOI 10.1027/1015-5759.23.2.99
100 M. de Wied et al.: Index of Empathy

fourth-grade samples, and an adult nine-point response for- from the sample because teachers failed to record infor-
mat in the seventh-grade sample. Although the IECA dem- mation about age and sex of these children. The data
onstrated acceptable test-retest reliability and preliminary from respondents who did not complete all items from
construct validity, the item-total correlations and the reli- the empathy index (n = 10) were also omitted. Conform-
ability formulas that were used indicated weak internal ing to the inclusion criteria, the data from 45 respon-
consistency, especially in the two younger age samples. dents, aged younger than 8 (n = 4), or older than 10 (n
These findings raise questions about the factor structure = 41) were omitted from the sample. In total, the data
underlying the IECA. Recently, Del Barrio, Aluja, and Gar- from 817 children (414 boys; 403 girls) were included
cia (2004) examined the factor structure of the IECA in a in the statistical analyses of the data. The mean age was
Spanish sample of adolescent boys and girls, using a 5- 8.88 (SD = .33).
point Likert-type scale. Exploratory and Confirmatory Fac- – Sample 2: Students collected data from 90 children at
tor Analyses revealed a three-factor structure, with factors two primary schools in the vicinity of Utrecht. The sam-
related to feelings of sadness, tearful reactions, and under- ple included 15 fourth graders, 41 fifth graders, and 34
standing feelings. sixth graders. Consistent with the inclusion criteria, the
The purpose of the present study was to examine the data from eight respondents, aged younger than 10 (n =
internal structure of the IECA, and sex differences, in 7), or older than 12 (n = 1) were omitted from further
Dutch samples of children and adolescents. Samples with analyses. In total, the data from 82 children (41 boys; 41
a broader age range were used, namely, third graders (8- girls) were included in the statistical analyses. The mean
and 9-year-olds), fourth to sixth graders (10- to 12-year- age was 10.89 (SD = .80).
olds), and eighth graders (13- and 14-year-olds). The orig- – Sample 3: The eighth-grade data were collected as part
inal child two-point (yes/no) response format was used in of a larger study on parenting and adolescent problem
all three samples. As girls are frequently found to be more behavior. Data of analyses were derived from a study of
empathic than boys (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983; Hoffman, 1,113 Dutch adolescents who completed the IECA in
1977; Strayer & Roberts, 1997b), sex differences were pre- classes consisting of 17–31 pupils. In compliance with
dicted, with higher empathy scores for girls than for boys. the inclusion criteria, the data from 34 respondents aged
younger than 13 (n = 10), or older than 14 (n = 24) were
omitted. In total, the data from 1,079 respondents (500
males; 579 females) were included in the statistical anal-
Methods yses. The mean age of the respondents was 13.40 (SD =
Subjects and Procedures
The data were collected within the context of three different
studies with third graders (Sample 1), fourth to sixth grad- The Dutch Version of Bryant’s Empathy
ers (Sample 2), and eighth graders (Sample 3). Somewhat
different administrations of the empathy index (interview
vs. self-report) were used across samples. The children in
Samples 1 and 2 were interviewed individually, since The 22 items of Bryant’s empathy index (shown in Table
young children better understand questions that are read 1), were translated into Dutch by two bilingual researchers
aloud to them. As early adolescents have a sufficient ca- who were both familiar with the construct being assessed.
pacity to understand the questions by reading them them- For one of them the first language was Dutch, for the other
selves, the children in Sample 3 were seen in groups. All the first language was English. Forward and backward
studies adhered to required confidentiality procedures. Be- translation procedures were used. The same sequence of
cause of developmental change in empathy (Hoffman, items was maintained in the Dutch translation of the Index.
2000; Roberts & Strayer, 1996; Strayer, 1993), inclusion Because of the double negation in Item 22, however, the
criteria were employed to prevent age overlap between the item was reworded in the affirmative sense. The opening
samples. Hence, the data of 8- to 9-year-olds from Sample words of the sentence “I don’t feel upset . . .” were replaced
1, 10- to 12-year-olds from Sample 2, and 13- to 14-year- by the words “I do feel upset . . ..” Item 22 was maintained
olds from Sample 3, were a priori selected to be included in its original wording in Samples 1 and 3, but replaced by
in the statistical analyses. the affirmative statement in Sample 2.
– Sample 1: The third-grade data were collected as part of The two-point (yes/no) response format was used in all
a larger longitudinal study on social development in pri- samples. The signs in parentheses (see Table 1) refer to the
mary school children, including 1,001 Dutch children. coding of empathic answers. A “(+)” indicates that an an-
Fifty schools participated in the study, all situated in the swer in the affirmative contributes to an empathic tenden-
province of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Students individ- cy. A “(–)” indicates that an answer in the negative contrib-
ually interviewed the children at their school in a private utes to an empathic tendency. Empathic answers were as-
classroom. The data from 129 children were removed signed the value 1, and nonempathic answers the value 0.

European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2007; Vol. 23(2):99–104 © 2007 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
M. de Wied et al.: Index of Empathy 101

Table 1. Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents third samples were performed for boys and girls separately.
The sex differentiation could not be made in the second
Statement Yes/No
sample, because of the low number of respondents.
1 It makes me sad to see a girl who can’t find anyone (+)
to play with
There are several ways to assess the number of factors
(Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Selecting the number of fac-
2 People who kiss and hug in public are silly (–)
tors on the basis of the eigenvalues greater than 1 did not
3 Boys who cry because they are happy are silly (–) give us a parsimonious solution: this yielded seven or more
4 I really like to watch people open presents, even (+) factors. A second criterion is the scree test of eigenvalues
when I don’t get a present myself
plotted against factors. For both girls and boys two under-
5 Seeing a boy who is crying makes me feel like crying (+) lying dimensions were found. The results of the first and
6 I get upset when I see a girl being hurt (+) third sample are presented in Table 2. To interpret the fac-
7 Even when I don’t know why someone is laughing, I (+) tors an orthogonal rotation was used. As a rule of thumb,
laugh too only variables with a loading of .32 and above were inter-
8 Sometimes I cry when I watch TV (+) preted (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Minor differences be-
9 Girls who cry because they are happy are silly (–) tween boys and girls and between samples were observed
10 It’s hard for me to see why someone else gets upset (–) (see Table 2). In order to develop common-item scales for
11 I get upset when I see an animal being hurt (+) both boys and girls across different age groups, we used
the criterion of consistency for retaining items on the fac-
12 It makes me sad to see a boy who can’t find anyone (+)
to play with tors. Thus, only items with a minimal weight of .32 for boys
13 Some songs make me so sad I feel like crying (+)
and girls alike in both age samples were selected. The over-
all conclusion for boys and girls of all ages was that the
14 I get upset when I see a boy being hurt (+)
first factor consists of the following seven items: 1, 5, 6,
15 Grown-ups sometimes cry, even when they have (–) 12, 13, 14, and 19. The second factor comprises the follow-
nothing to be sad about
ing five items: 2, 3, 9, 16, and 20. The other items did not
16 It’s silly to treat dogs and cats as though they have (–)
systematically load on either factor1.
feelings like people
A second set of exploratory factor analyses was performed
17 I get mad when I see a classmate pretending to need (–)
help from the teacher all the time
on the above-mentioned items. Sample 2 was added, and
Cronbach’s α was also calculated. The results of these anal-
18 Kids who have no friends probably don’t want any (–)
yses are reported in Table 3. Because Sample 2 consisted of
19 Seeing a girl who is crying makes me feel like crying (+) only 82 respondents, the results should be taken with some
20 I think it is funny that some people cry during a sad (–) caution. In all samples the same two factors emerged, al-
movie or while reading a sad book
though Item 13 had a loading on both factors in Sample 2.
21 I am able to eat all my cookies even when I see some- (–) The first factor, which accounted for 27% to 33% of the vari-
one looking at me wanting one
ance (see Table 3), showed moderate to high loadings of
22 I don’t feel upset when I see a classmate being pun- (–) Items 1, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, and 19 in all samples. We labeled
ished by a teacher for not obeying school rules
this factor Empathic Sadness, because all items bear directly
on one’s feelings about another person’s sadness. The second
factor, which accounted for 16% to 20% of the variance (see
Results Table 3), showed moderate to high loadings of Items 2, 3, 9,
16, and 20. We labeled this factor Attitude, because all items
Structure of the Empathy Index seem to reflect (negative) attitudes toward emotional behav-
ior. The first factor, labeled Empathic Sadness, showed good
Similar to the results obtained by Bryant (1982), the Cron- reliability in Samples 1 (.71), and 3 (.76), and almost accept-
bach’s α coefficients that were calculated in the separate able reliability in Sample 2 (.68). The second factor, labeled
samples indicated weak to moderate internal consistency Attitude, showed weak reliability across all samples, specif-
for third graders (.52), fourth to sixth graders (.62), and ically, in Sample 1 (.59), 2 (.55), and 3 (.54).
eighth graders (.66). To check the dimensionality of the The present data reveal that the empathy index is multi-
IECA, we used the Mplus program (Muthén & Muthén, dimensional, rather than one-dimensional, consisting of
1988). With this program a factor analysis can be per- two subscales: a 7-item Empathic Sadness scale, including
formed on dichotomous data. Exploratory Factor Analyses items like “It makes me sad to see a girl/boy who can’t find
were used to determine the number of continuous latent anyone to play with,” and “I get upset when I see a girl/boy
variables that are needed to explain the correlations among being hurt,” and a 5-item Attitude scale, including items
the set of observed variables. The analyses of the first and like “People who kiss and hug in public are silly,” and “It’s

1 Table 2 shows that Item 8 loaded on F1, except for girls in Sample 1; Item 10 loaded on F2, except for girls in Sample 1; and Item 11 loaded
on F1, except for boys in Sample 1. Factor analyses were also conducted with the inclusion of these items. However, the analyses produced
different factor solutions across the three samples.

© 2007 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2007; Vol. 23(2):99–104
102 M. de Wied et al.: Index of Empathy

Table 2. Factor loadings after varimax rotation of the 22 dispositional empathy items.
Sample 1 Sample 3
Boys (n = 414) Girls (n = 403) Boys (n = 500) Girls (n = 579)
F1 F2 F1 F2 F1 F2 F1 F2
IEKA1 .823 –.193 .745 .014 .743 –.020 .745 .112
IEKA2 –.010 .623 .020 .486 –.140 .506 –.029 .431
IEKA3 .217 .781 .037 .641 .062 .696 .160 .572
IEKA4 .168 .072 .176 .187 .352 .323 .284 .158
IEKA5 .571 .076 .479 –.053 .417 –.163 .586 –.028
IEKA6 .676 –.026 .751 –.083 .809 .203 .748 .163
IEKA7 .255 –.191 .038 –.088 .345 –.142 .285 –.149
IEKA8 .388 .107 .292 .084 .384 –.080 .480 .076
IEKA9 .192 .765 .141 .513 –.008 .745 .168 .614
IEKA10 –.106 .427 –.144 .296 .000 .548 –.118 .513
IEKA11 .309 .034 .573 .069 .474 .231 .510 .161
IEKA12 .753 –.313 .804 .014 .790 .045 .805 .116
IEKA13 .391 .040 .367 .002 .514 –.222 .410 .059
IEKA14 .722 –.097 .769 .148 .870 .227 .808 .275
IEKA15 –.375 –.024 –.133 –.055 –.229 –.057 –.280 –.059
IEKA16 .020 .415 –.001 .478 –.025 .551 –.015 .562
IEKA17 –.204 .044 –.246 .117 –.135 .307 –.190 .088
IEKA18 –.076 .212 –.002 .297 .001 .425 .066 .604
IEKA19 .816 .021 .690 –.136 .494 –.277 .623 –.212
IEKA20 .031 .441 .177 .625 .062 .454 .168 .648
IEKA21 .243 .206 .137 .592 .150 .207 .014 .279
IEKA22 .058 .007 .032 –.238 –.206 .216 –.199 .014
R2* 18% 11% 17% 10% 18% 13% 19% 12%
Note: Items with loadings in bold were selected for a second set of factor analyses. *Explained variance among the 22 items.

Table 3. Factor loadings after varimax rotation of the selected dispositional empathy items.
Sample 1 (n = 817) Sample 2 (n = 82) Sample 3 (n = 1079)
F1 F2 F1 F2 F1 F2
IEKA1 .830 –.024 .982 –.058 .833 –.047
IEKA2 –.043 .463 .057 .479 –.102 .470
IEKA3 .015 .855 .228 .635 .178 .793
IEKA5 .495 .049 .409 .156 .632 .112
IEKA6 .687 –.020 .722 .229 .776 .108
IEKA9 .149 .831 –.050 .887 .132 .884
IEKA12 .772 –.051 .889 .041 .851 .001
IEKA13 .387 .087 .325 .482 .528 .098
IEKA14 .697 .050 .615 .339 .840 .155
IEKA16 –.024 .337 .064 .493 –.027 .381
IEKA19 .798 –.027 .445 .039 .609 –.035
IEKA20 .056 .434 .102 .538 .267 .488
R 28% 16% 27% 20% 33% 17%
α** .707 .585 .683 .547 .763 .541
Note: High loadings are given in bold. *Explained variance among the 12 items, **F1: of the items 1, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 19; F2: of the items 2,
3, 9, 16, 20.

European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2007; Vol. 23(2):99–104 © 2007 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
M. de Wied et al.: Index of Empathy 103

Table 4. Means (SD) of the empathy scores

Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3
Boys Girls t (df = Boys Girls t (df = Boys Girls t (df =
(n = 414) (n = 403) 815) (n = 41) (n = 41) 80) (n = 500) (n = 579) 1077)
22-item index 11.43 (2.92) 12.43 (2.92) –4.87** 12.37 (3.22) 14.17 (2.13) –3.00* 12.11 (2.98) 15.08 (2.83) –16.77**
7-item distress scale 2.34 (1.80) 3.13 (1.79) –6.25** 2.54 (1.75) 3.41 (1.30) –2.58* 1.94 (1.68) 3.62 (1.87) –15.41**
5-item attitude scale 2.87 (1.52) 2.82 (1.43) .54 3.85 (1.28) 4.20 (1.05) –1.32 3.87 (1.22) 4.28 (0.98) – 6.02**
**p < .0001, *p < .01

silly to treat dogs and cats as though they have feelings like ent statistical procedures. Nevertheless, the factors that
people.” emerged in Del Barrio et al’s and our study have some com-
mon characteristics. The items with loadings on Empathic
Sadness, for example, loaded in Del Barrio et al.’s study on
Sex Differences the two factors related to emotional experiences and reac-
tions, labeled Feelings of Sadness and Tearful Reactions.
The index scores were subjected to independent samples Likewise, the items with loadings on our Attitude scale
t-tests, separately for each sample. Consistent with predic- loaded in Del Barrio et al’s study on the one factor related
tions, significant sex differences emerged in all samples for to emotion knowledge, labeled Understanding Feelings.
the 22-item index; t1 (815) = –4.87, p < .0001; t2 (80) = Thus, both studies suggest that items aimed at ascertaining
–3.00, p = .004; t3 (1077) = –16.77, p < .0001, and the feelings load on different factors than those aimed at ascer-
7-item sadness scale; t1 (815) = –6.25, p < .0001; t2 (80) = taining emotional knowledge or attitudes.
–2.58, p = .012; t3 (1077) = –15.41, p < .0001, with higher It is important to note, however, that the items of the Atti-
scores for girls than for boys (see Table 4). For the 5-item tude scale are all reverse-scored items, whereas items of the
attitude scale, significant sex differences emerged only in Empathic Sadness scale are all worded so that agreement
Sample 3; t3 (1077) = –6.02, p < .0001; not in the two indicates high empathy. Since children may respond differ-
younger age samples; t1 < 1, t2 (80) = –1.32, ns. ently to positive and reversed items, it is possible that the
present factor structure is partly a function of the format in
which the items were presented instead of content. It is also
important to note that both subscales are very narrow in scope
Discussion and do not form a representative sample of the entire domain
of affective empathy. The items of the Attitude scale address
The purpose of the present study was to examine the inter- only silly or funny behavior, the items of the Empathic Sad-
nal structure of Bryant’s (1982) Index of Empathy for Chil- ness scale address only one single emotion. Nevertheless, the
dren and Adolescents (IECA). Although the conceptual Empathic Sadness scale seems particularly relevant to affec-
framework for the IECA implies a single dimension of be- tive empathy in that it seems to measure children’s respon-
havior, the factor analyses conducted in the present study siveness to another person’s sadness.
suggest that the empathy index is multidimensional, rather Altogether, the present findings seriously challenge the
than one-dimensional. The same two-factor solution validity of the 22-item index as a measure of affective em-
emerged in all samples, indicating good replicability. The pathy. Further research should be directed toward improv-
first factor, which we labeled Empathic Sadness, showed ing the validity of the index. We propose to continue with
good reliability in the two larger samples (Samples 1 and the 7-item Empathic Sadness scale, which is already more
3) and almost acceptable reliability in the smaller sample homogeneous than the 22-item index. The Empathic Sad-
(Sample 2). Sex differences were established in each sam- ness scale is rather specific and should not be viewed (nor
ple, with girls reporting more empathic sadness than boys. used) as a measure of affective empathy. The scale needs
The second factor, labeled Attitude, showed weak reliabil- to be enlarged with items covering a broader range of emo-
ity in all samples, and poor differentiation between the sex- tions to create a more comprehensive and valid measure of
es in the two younger age samples (Samples 1 and 2). affective empathy. Yet, the Empathic Sadness scale seems
Consistent with Del Barrio et al.’s study, the current to measure an essential part of affective empathy, that is,
findings suggest that the IECA is not as homogeneous as responsiveness to another person’s sadness. Further re-
intended and represented by Bryant. However, different search might demonstrate that the scale is useful as a brief
from Del Barrio et al.’s study (2004), revealing a three-fac- measure of children’s responsiveness to another’s sadness.
tor solution, the present study suggests that a two-factor The present findings already show that this particular scale
solution best fits the data. This inconsistency could result, includes items common to girls and boys of all ages and
in part, from methodological variations, including differ- could, therefore, be used to examine sex differences and
ences in age (young vs. older age samples), response for- age trends in empathic sadness across childhood, adoles-
mats (binary vs. interval scales), and, consequently, differ- cence, and young adulthood.

© 2007 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2007; Vol. 23(2):99–104
104 M. de Wied et al.: Index of Empathy

Hoffman, M.L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Impli-

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