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113. Social anxiety severity and empathy: Moderating influences of general anxiety severity and biological sex
A few studies have examined relationships between social anxiety severity and subtypes of empathy, and reported mixed findings. One found that accounting for general anxiety changed relationships between social anxiety and empathy in a small sample. The present study attempted to clarify these relationships in 701 undergraduate students (76% female). Participants completed an online battery of self-report measures and one behavioral measure, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (MIE). OLS regression-based path analyses examined potential moderation of sex and general anxiety severity on relationships between social anxiety and each of three empathy measures, including the covariate of age. There was a significant positive relationship between social anxiety severity and MIE performance which was moderated by sex (only present in women) and did not interact with general anxiety severity. In addition, there was a positive relationship between social anxiety severity and affective empathy that was only significant in men and did not interact with general anxiety. General anxiety showed negative main effects with MIE performance and self-reported cognitive, but not affective, empathy. Results suggest that social anxiety severity relates to higher cognitive empathy performance in women and increased self-reported affective empathy in men.