Objectives: Both cognitive and affective empathy are regarded as essential prerequisites for successful social functioning, and recent studies have suggested that cognitive, but not affective, empathy may be adversely affected as a consequence of normal adult aging. This decline in cognitive empathy is of concern, as older adults are particularly susceptible to the negative physical and mental health consequences of loneliness and social isolation. Method: The present study compared younger (N = 80) and older (N = 49) adults on measures of cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and social functioning.
Results: Whilst older adults' self-reported and performance-based cognitive empathy was significantly reduced relative to younger adults, there were no age-related differences in affective empathy. Older adults also reported involvement in significantly fewer social activities than younger adults, and cognitive empathy functioned as a partial mediator of this relationship.
Conclusion: These findings are consistent with theoretical models that regard cognitive empathy as an essential prerequisite for good interpersonal functioning. However, the cross-sectional nature of the study leaves open the question of causality for future studies.