Non-sex offenders display distorted thinking and have empathy deficits too: A thematic analysis of cognitions and the application of empathy

K. Walker, Sarah J. Brown

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    5 Citations (Scopus)


    It is generally assumed that empathy acts to disinhibit behaviour that could be perceived as detrimental to others, and as a result is a common feature of offender treatment programmes. The present research hypothesised that empathy in all populations is both a situational and a selective process that is ultimately governed by self-interest, and further, that it is the nature of the self-interest that distinguishes individuals rather than a general empathy deficit per se. Empathic processes were observed in a non-offending population in a personal situation normally regarded as evocative of empathy: infidelity. Thematic analysis of data from individuals who reported being faithful or unfaithful to their partners revealed five dominant themes: vulnerable predisposition, emotional motivators, rational emotive decision making, avoiding cognitive dissonance and lack of remorse. The themes all revealed how individuals employed cognitive strategies, which were managed by self-interest that functioned to create cognitive states devoid of empathy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)81-101
    JournalJournal of Sexual Aggression: An international, interdisciplinary forum for research, theory and practice
    Issue number1
    Early online date14 Nov 2011
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    Bibliographical note

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    • empathy
    • thematic analysis
    • cognitive distortions
    • cognitive dissonance
    • sexual offending

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