The Developmental Origins of a Disposition Toward Empathy: Genetic and Environmental Contributions

Psychology Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel.
Emotion (Impact Factor: 3.88). 01/2009; 8(6):737-52. DOI: 10.1037/a0014179
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The authors investigated the development of a disposition toward empathy and its genetic and environmental origins. Young twins' (N = 409 pairs) cognitive (hypothesis testing) and affective (empathic concern) empathy and prosocial behavior in response to simulated pain by mothers and examiners were observed at multiple time points. Children's mean level of empathy and prosociality increased from 14 to 36 months. Positive concurrent and longitudinal correlations indicated that empathy was a relatively stable disposition, generalizing across ages, across its affective and cognitive components, and across mother and examiner. Multivariate genetic analyses showed that genetic effects increased, and that shared environmental effects decreased, with age. Genetic effects contributed to both change and continuity in children's empathy, whereas shared environmental effects contributed to stability and nonshared environmental effects contributed to change. Empathy was associated with prosocial behavior, and this relationship was mainly due to environmental effects.

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    • "Just as WM for general visual objects (e.g., colors) has been linked to general cognitive abilities such as intelligence, we hypothesized that WM capacities that are specific to BM would correlate with social functioning. We focused on the correlation between WM of BM and empathy, an essential aspect of normal social functioning, which has been extensively studied in the last decades from developmental, social, clinical, and neuroscience perspectives (e.g., Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004; Batson et al., 1997; Blakemore, 2008; Decety & Jackson, 2004; Knafo et al., 2008; Shamay-Tsoory, 2011). Empathy, broadly defined, refers to the cognitive as well as the emotional reactions of an individual to the observed experiences of other individuals (Shamay-Tsoory, 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Working memory (WM) and empathy are core issues in cognitive and social science, respectively. However, no study so far has explored the relationship between these two constructs. Considering that empathy takes place based on the others' observed experiences, which requires extracting the observed dynamic scene into WM and forming a coherent representation, we hypothesized that a sub-type of WM capacity, i.e., WM for biological movements (BM), should predict one's empathy level. Therefore, WM capacity was measured for three distinct types of stimuli in a change detection task: BM of human beings (BM; Experiment 1), movements of rectangles (Experiment 2), and static colors (Experiment 3). The first two stimuli were dynamic and shared one WM buffer which differed from the WM buffer for colors; yet only the BM conveyed social information. We found that BM-WM capacity was positively correlated with both cognitive and emotional empathy, with no such correlations for WM capacity of movements of rectangles or of colors. Thus, the current study is the first to provide evidence linking a specific buffer of WM and empathy, and highlights the necessity for considering different WM capacities in future social and clinical research.
    Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 07/2015; DOI:10.3758/s13423-015-0896-2 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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    • "These abilities in turn allow children to later establish and maintain social relationships. Nevertheless, there are individual differences with regards to the mechanisms that moderate children's social navigation and there is variability in children's responsiveness to others' feelings and desires (Dunn et al., 1991; Eisenberg et al., 1996; Rothbart et al., 2000; Knafo et al., 2008; Salley et al., 2013). A central challenge to measuring the underlying processes of behavior is that these processes are often either internal or partially based on expressive emotions that occur briefly and rapidly in succession. "
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    ABSTRACT: A central challenge of investigating the underlying mechanisms of and the individual differences in young children's behavior is the measurement of the internal physiological mechanism and the involved expressive emotions. Here, we illustrate two paradigms that assess concurrent indicators of both children's social perception as well as their emotional expression. In one set of studies, children view situations while their eye movements are mapped onto a live scene. In these studies, children's internal arousal is measured via changes in their pupil dilation by using eye tracking technology. In another set of studies, we measured children's emotional expression via changes in their upper-body posture by using depth sensor imaging technology. Together, these paradigms can provide new insights into the internal mechanism and outward emotional expression involved in young children's behavior.
    Frontiers in Psychology 07/2015; 6:858. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00858 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • " in empathic ability and specifically in affective knowledge – from extreme deficits , as in autism ( Yirmiya et al . , 1992 ) to differences in empathy and affective knowledge within the normal range seen in adults ( Davis , 1980 ; Lawrence et al . , 2004 ) , children ( Bryant , 1982 ; Denham , 1986 ; Knafo - Noam et al . , 2015 ) , and infants ( Knafo et al . , 2008a ) ."
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    ABSTRACT: Affective knowledge, the ability to understand others' emotional states, is considered to be a fundamental part in efficient social interaction. Affective knowledge can be seen as related to cognitive empathy, and in the framework of theory of mind (ToM) as affective ToM. Previous studies found that cognitive empathy and ToM are heritable, yet little is known regarding the specific genes involved in individual variability in affective knowledge. Investigating the genetic basis of affective knowledge is important for understanding brain mechanisms underlying socio-cognitive abilities. The 7-repeat (7R) allele within the third exon of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4-III) has been a focus of interest, due to accumulated knowledge regarding its relevance to individual differences in social behavior. A recent study suggests that an interaction between the DRD4-III polymorphism and sex is associated with cognitive empathy among adults. We aimed to examine the same association in two childhood age groups. Children (N = 280, age 3.5 years, N = 283, age 5 years) participated as part of the Longitudinal Israel Study of Twins. Affective knowledge was assessed through children's responses to an illustrated story describing different emotional situations, told in a laboratory setting. The findings suggest a significant interaction between sex and the DRD4-III polymorphism, replicated in both age groups. Boy carriers of the 7R allele had higher affective knowledge scores than girls, whereas in the absence of the 7R there was no significant sex effect on affective knowledge. The results support the importance of DRD4-III polymorphism and sex differences to social development. Possible explanations for differences from adult findings are discussed, as are pathways for future studies.
    Frontiers in Psychology 06/2015; 6:846. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00846 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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