Dialogues in Philosophy
Mental and Neuro Sciences

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

The official journal of Crossing Dialogues
Volume 13, Issue 2 (December 2020)

The empathic migrant: empathy is preserved in African refugees with PTSD
Massimiliano Aragona, Anna Maria Petta, Flaminia Kiaris, Edvaldo Begotaraj, Carlo Lai, Grazia Fernanda Spitoni
Objectives: African asylum seekers and refugees arrive in Italy after being exposed to several traumatic experiences as torture, in their own countries and/or in Libya. After the arrival they often present a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). In this study, we test the hypothesis that patients with PTSD have difficulties in empathic abilities due to the distortion of the interpersonal basic trust induced by traumas.
Methods: We compared 20 African patients with PTSD and 20 African healthy controls. Traumatic history and PTSD were assessed both clinically and with Post-Traumatic Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) and List of Migration Experiences (LiMeS). The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was used to study empathy on four dimensions: Perspective Taking, Empathic Concern, Fantasy, and Personal Distress.
Results: We found no difference in Perspective Taking (17.35±5.25 vs. 18.05±3.69) and Empathic Concern (20.65±4.93 vs. 20.15±4.03), while patients had higher scores on Fantasy (16.15±5.30 vs. 11.80±4.38, p<.05) and Personal Distress (16.30±4.04 vs. 8.95±3.72, p<.001). Moreover, scores at Fantasy and Perspective Taking were positively correlated to the intrusiveness of post-traumatic symptoms.
Conclusion: Contrary to expectations, African asylum seekers and refugees do not react to traumatic experiences with a disruption of empathic capabilities. In our sample, empathy is well preserved and fantasy resonance appears increased.
Patients show increased distress when faced to the others’ suffering, which we interpret as a possible by-product of posttraumatic personal suffering. The ability to resonate with the other’s perspective, emotions and suffering, represent a good basis for projects aimed to improve interpersonal relationships and pro-social behaviors.
Migration, Refugees, PTSD, Empathy, Social Cognition
Dial Phil Ment Neuro Sci 2020; 13(2): 54-61
Received on December 11, 2018
Accepted on December 22, 2018
Firstly published online on December, 2020