Assessing cognitive and affective empathy through the interpersonal reactivity index: An argument against a two-factor model

Abstract

One aspect of higher order social cognition is empathy, a psychological construct comprising a cognitive (recognizing emotions) and an affective (responding to emotions) component. The complex nature of empathy complicates the accurate measurement of these components. The most widely used measure of empathy is the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). However, the factor structure of the IRI as it is predominantly used in the psychological literature differs from Davis’s original four-factor model in that it arbitrarily combines the subscales to form two factors: cognitive and affective empathy. This two-factor model of the IRI, although popular, has yet to be examined for psychometric support. In the current study, we examine, for the first time, the validity of this alternative model. A confirmatory factor analysis showed poor model fit for this two-factor structure. Additional analyses offered support for the original four-factor model, as well as a hierarchical model for the scale. In line with previous findings, females scored higher on the IRI than males. Our findings indicate that the IRI, as it is currently used in the literature, does not accurately measure cognitive and affective empathy and highlight the advantages of using the original four-factor structure of the scale for empathy assessments.

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