BACKGROUND: Little research has been carried out on empathy and theory of mind in offenders with intellectual disability (ID) and these concepts are often poorly defined. METHOD: Various models of empathy and theory of mind are discussed and scores on 2 empathy and 3 theory of mind tasks are compared for 25 offenders with ID and 25 non-offenders with ID (all male). RESULTS: Differences were found in empathy and theory of mind performance of offenders and non-offenders with ID. Offenders performed better than non-offenders on a second order theory of mind task and on emotion recognition. They required fewer prompts to mention emotions, and gave empathic/caring responses more often than non-offenders when observing happiness (but not sadness or anger). CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that offenders with ID may have better, rather than poorer, empathy and theory of mind abilities than non-offenders, and that empathy training is therefore not indicated for this group.
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