Neurocognitive Basis of Impaired Empathy in Schizophrenia

Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Syvan Shur, Hagai Harari, Yechiel Levkovitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients with schizophrenia show impaired emotional and social behavior, such as lack of theory of mind and misinterpretation of social situations. However, there is a paucity of work focusing on the empathic abilities of these patients. The present study was designed to examine the degree of impairment in cognitive and affective empathy in schizophrenia and to evaluate the contribution of executive prefrontal functions to empathy in these patients. To explore the neurocognitive processes that underlie the empathic ability in schizophrenic patients, the relationship between empathy scores and the performance on a cognitive flexibility task that assesses dorsolateral and orbitofrontal functioning (set shifting and reversal, respectively) was examined in 26 patients with schizophrenia and 31 healthy control subjects. Results indicated that patients with schizophrenia were significantly impaired in both cognitive and affective empathy compared with healthy control subjects. The degree of impaired empathy related to the severity of negative symptoms. In addition, patients showed impaired performance on measures of both shifting and reversal. However, while cognitive empathy was particularly related to measurements of orbitofrontal (rather than dorsolateral) functioning, affective empathy was related to measures of social functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-438
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • affective processing
  • prefrontal cortex
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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