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Department of Psychological Sciences

Karen M. Feighny, Ph.D.

Advisor: Dr. Mark Barnett

Dissertation Title

Empathy and prosocial behavior in child victims of physical abuse: the role of shared experience

Dissertation Abstract

The present study examined the impact of shared personal experience on empathy and prosocial behavior in child victims of physical abuse. Child victims of maltreatment and matched control children, aged 4-5, were shown one of three videotapes in which an androgynous-appearing child, described as either abused or nonabused, talked about his/her similar or dissimilar personal experience. While watching the videotape presentation, the observing child's heart rate and respiration were monitored. Also during the critical segments of the videotape, the experimenter assessed the facial/gestural reaction of the child on a 5-point scale. Immediately following the videotape, each child was asked to indicate how (s)he felt on a 5-point smiley-face rating scale. Subsequently, a measure of prosocial behavior, donating earned stickers to a needy other, was also obtained. The results were generally consistent with the notion that a young child's empathy with an unhappy agemate will be enhanced when the observing child has had a similar unpleasant experience. Although a consistent and robust pattern of findings emerged from the cardiovascular measure, no significant differences were found on the facial/gestural measure, the self-report affect ratings, or the donating stickers response. Correlational data revealed a relationship between the cardiovascular measure and the facial/gestural measure. The implications of the present findings for cardiovascular indices of empathy with children, prosocial behavior measures for child victims of maltreatment, research on enhancing empathy through perceived similar experience with children and adults, and multivariate approaches to empathy are discussed.


Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 1992


Karen M. Pfeifer Feighny, Ph.D., is a psychologist, published academician, and entrepreneur. 

She has been an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas; and, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Kansas City, Missouri.  While at these universities, Karen published extensively in refereed journals (see attached).  These publications are listed on the National Library of Medicine web site.  Her work is also available at Google.com. 

Karen also founded numerous grant-funded programs for the disenfranchised (see attached).  These programs still exist.  Some of the programs have been nationally recognized.  They include two programs for battered women and their children – the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas (DVACK), Salina, Kansas; and the Bridge Project (at the Rose Brooks Center, Kansas City, Missouri).  She also founded a consulting agency that specialized in diversity training programs throughout the United States.  And, she is presently working on a rural elders program for when she returns to Kansas. 

Karen is presently a 2010 Decennial statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.  She is part of a team that is preparing the nation for the Decennial count that is mandated in the U.S. Constitution.

Karen is married to Leo Glynn Feighny.  Leo is also a statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.

Leo and Karen have two daughters, Jill and Erica.  They have three grandchildren, Valerie, Reynolds, and Anderson. 


Representative Publications

Psychology Publications

National Library of Medicine Publications