Year 2021
September 2021


Abstract Title
Empathy, emotional reactivity, and externalizing-internalizing behaviour in children with low academic performance

L.W. PHUA1, C. P. SOH2, T. J. GOH2, N. F. HO3, C. CHEW4, S. H. ONG2, D. S. S. FUNG2


Nanyang Technological University1, Institute of Mental Health2, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School3, Equal Ark Singapore4

Background & Hypothesis

Low academic performance is associated with poor social-emotional competency and behavioural problems. We aim to explore the relationship between emotional reactivity, empathy, and behaviour in children with low academic performance.



Students (N =24) aged 13 to 14 (M = 13.17) studying in a specialized school, completed the questionnaires prior to their participation in a larger study. Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL), Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and a Cognitive Reappraisal computer task was used to measure behaviour, empathy, and emotional reactivity, respectively. Linear regression analysis using Hayes PROCESS Macros and correlations were conducted.


Correlation between emotional reactivity (ER) and overall CBCL score was not statistically significant. However, there were positive associations between ER and CBCL subscale scores, specifically, withdrawal, r(23) = 0.52, and somatic symptoms, r(23) = 0.54, and negative association between ER and rule-breaking behaviour, r(23) = -0.45. Empathy scores are positively associated with ER, r(23) = 0.44. Empathy was neither a significant mediator nor moderator in the relationship between ER and CBCL scores.


Discussion & Conclusion

Our results indicate that adolescents with higher empathy scores display greater emotional reactivity, which is associated with more withdrawal and somatic symptoms, and lesser rule breaking behaviours. According to past research, this could be attributed to poor regulation of empathic distress leading to the individual being overwhelmed by negative affect – a condition known as – empathic overarousal. However, more research is needed to determine the mechanisms underlying these relationships and the possible role of academic achievement to better inform school-based programs promoting socioemotional development for children.