Objectives: To examine the influence of affective empathy on post-treatment effects on social information processing of an outpatient individual social skills training for justice-involved adolescents. Methods: The sample consisted of juveniles who received Tools4U, a social skills training with a parental component, as a penal sanction (N = 115). Propensity score matching was used to select a control group of juveniles receiving treatment as usual (TAU) of n = 108 juveniles (of a total N = 354). Affective empathy was examined as a moderator and predictor of treatment effects on social information processing skills: hostile intent attribution and cognitive distortions. Results: Empathy only influenced treatment effects on hostile intent attribution, and not on any of the other social information processing skills (i.e., cognitive distortions). Tools4U was only effective in improving hostile intent attribution for juveniles with moderate or high affective empathy and not for juveniles with low empathy. No moderating or predictive effects were found for cognitive distortions. Conclusions: Affective empathy only influenced (Tools4U) treatment effects on hostile intent attribution: a minimum level of empathy may be required to decrease hostile intent attribution in treatment. The intervention proved to be effective in decreasing cognitive distortions (i.e., self-centering, assuming the worst), regardless of affective empathy level. Future studies should investigate and refine the complex interaction of affective empathy with other factors and treatment changes, particularly for long-term effects on delinquency.
- Justice-involved adolescents
- Juvenile delinquents
- Social cognitive skills
- Social information processing
- Social skills training