The "zipper model of empathy" applied to violence in schizophrenia: A search for social cognitive underpinnings of lack of empathic behavior

Compr Psychiatry. 2023 Jul:124:152391. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2023.152391. Epub 2023 May 4.


Background: The "zipper model of empathy" has been proposed for psychopathy. It postulates that empathic behavior may fail to arise due to impaired facial emotion recognition. In this study, we examined if the model may be of relevance for schizophrenia.

Methods: In a sample of participants with schizophrenia and a history of severe interpersonal violence, associations between measures of social cognition (emotion recognition, theory of mind) and aspects of psychopathy (lack of empathy, lack of remorse) were investigated. A non-violent sample experiencing schizophrenia served as a control group.

Results: Correlation analyses revealed a specific and statistically significant association between facial emotion recognition and lack of empathy in the violent sample. Follow-up analyses identified that neutral emotions were of particular importance. Logistic regression analyses confirmed that impairments in facial emotion recognition predicted levels of empathy in the violent sample experiencing schizophrenia.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the "zipper model of empathy" may be relevant for schizophrenia. The findings further point to the potential benefit of including social cognitive training in the treatment of persons with schizophrenia and a history of interpersonal aggression.

Keywords: Antisociality; Emotion processing; Facial affect perception; Psychopathy; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Emotions
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Schizophrenia* / complications
  • Schizophrenia* / diagnosis
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Cognition
  • Violence / psychology