Cognitive and affective empathy among adolescent siblings of children with a physical disability

Lidia Perenc, M.D., Ryszard Pęczkowski, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 43-48


This study is a continuation of research on possible psychosocial benefits resulting from exposure to sibling with disability present in the family system. The issue seems to be especially important in Poland because of growing number of children with a disability and inconsistent results of previously performed studies.


The main aim of this study was to examine the differences in the intensity of cognitive and affective empathy in adolescents who either have or do not have siblings with physical disability. The authors hypothesized that the increased exposure to individual with disability should result in positive attitude towards such people and this tendency should be manifested in elevated empathy and compassion.


The study was carried out between September and November 2016. To meet the goals set to the study, a sample of 292 students from public middle and high schools were assessed using self-report demographic questionnaire and measure of empathy (IRI). The participants were between 13 and 19 years old. Among them 128 had a disabled sibling (Group T) and 164 constituted a comparative group (Group C). Interpretation of results is based on descriptive statistics.


Participants having a disabled sibling showed significantly higher scores related both to cognitive and affective empathy. Some significant differences were also noted in relation to participants’ gender and age.


Exposure to individuals with physical disability in family context may facilitate development of positive psychosocial traits including elevated empathy and compassion in nondisabled siblings. Data analysis also showed significantly greater empathic and altruistic tendencies in females that in males.