Background: The ability to understand another's emotions and act appropriately, empathy, is an important mediator of relationship function and health intervention fidelity. We adapted the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) - an empathy scale - among seroconcordant expectant couples with HIV in the Homens para Saúde Mais (HoPS+) trial - a cluster randomized controlled trial assessing couple-based versus individual treatment on viral suppression - in Zambézia Province, Mozambique.
Methods: Using baseline data from 1332 HoPS+ trial participants (666 couples), an exploratory factor analysis assessed culturally relevant questions from the IRI. Because empathy is interdependent among couples, we validated the results of the exploratory factor analysis using a dyadic confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) with dyadic measurement invariance testing. Finally, we assessed the relationship between scores on our final scale and basic demographic characteristics (sex, age, education, and depression) using t-tests.
Results: We found two subscales: 1) a seven-item cognitive empathy subscale (Cronbach's alpha 0.78) and 2) a six-item affective empathy subscale (Cronbach's alpha 0.73). The dyadic CFA found acceptable model fit and metric invariance across partners (Comparative Fit Index (CFI) = 0.914, Tucker Lewis Index = 0.904, Root Mean Squared Error of Approximation = 0.056, ΔCFI = 0.011). We observed higher cognitive (p: 0.012) and affective (p: 0.049) empathy among males and higher cognitive (p: 0.031) and affective (p: 0.030) empathy among younger participants. More educated participants had higher affective empathy (p: 0.017) and depressed participants had higher cognitive empathy (p: < 0.001). This two-subscale, 13-item version of the IRI measures cognitive and affective empathy in HoPS+ trial participants and adults while accounting for the interdependent nature of empathy within partner dyads.
Conclusions: This scale will allow us to assess the interplay between empathy and other psychometric constructs (stigma, social support, etc.) in the HoPS+ trial and how each relates to retention in HIV, adherence to treatment, and prevention of maternal to child HIV transmission. Furthermore, this scale can be adapted for other sub-Saharan African populations, which will allow researchers to better assess HIV-related intervention efficacy.
Trial registration: This study is within the context of the HoPS+ trial, registered at ClinicalTrials.gov as number NCT03149237 . Registered May 11, 2017.
Keywords: Dyadic analysis; Empathy; HIV/AIDS; Scale validation.