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.

1 Bookmark
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Empathy is facilitated by the perceived similarity between the object and subject. Conversely, nurturance has been suggested to influence empathy, in that humans have an ability to empathise with non-kin in a similar way as with their own offspring when certain characteristics (e.g., childlikeness) are present. To examine the combined effects of similarity and nurturance, participants (n = 69) were presented with images of infant and adult human and wild non-human animals (non-human primates, quadruped wild mammals, and wild birds) depicted in negative, victimising situations. Stronger phasic skin conductance responses and subjective ratings of empathy and arousal were observed for phylogenetically similar species. Subjective empathy and arousal ratings were greater for human infants but this did not extend to the non-human infants. Heart rate was lower during infant than adult stimuli presentations, however, the magnitude of change resembled that previously reported for neutral stimuli presentations. Although a similarity effect is widely acknowledged in the literature, the present findings point to the importance of taking into account both the age and the level of similarity with the target to gain a fuller understanding of empathy towards others of our own and different species.
    Behavioural Processes 09/2014; · 1.46 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Prosocial behavior first appears in the second year of life. How can prosociality so early in life be explained? One possibility is that infants possess specialized cognitive and/or social capacities that drive its emergence. A second possibility is that prosocial behavior emerges out of infants' shared activities and relationships with others. These possibilities have motivated a number of current explanatory efforts, with a focus on two complementary questions. First, what is evolutionarily prepared in the very young child and how does it give rise to prosocial behavior? Second, how do proximal mechanisms, including social experiences, contribute to the early development of prosociality? The papers in this special issue represent some of the most recent work on these questions. They highlight a diverse array of new methods and bring them to bear on the nature and development of early prosocial understanding and behavior.
    Infancy 01/2013; 18(1). · 1.73 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Early developments in toddlers’ responses to adults’ distress have been extensively examined, but less work has been directed to young children's responses to other children in distress. In the current study, we examined 12-, 18-, and 24-month-old children's (N = 71) behavioral and affective responses to a crying infant (doll) present in the room with the child. A comparison condition included a contented, neutral infant to contrast with the crying infant so as to disambiguate social interest from distress-specific responding. Results showed that 12-month-olds were neither particularly interested in nor concerned about the infant, although they did discriminate between conditions. In contrast, 18- and 24-month-olds were socially interested and attentive to the infant, but 24-month-olds exhibited greater affective concern to the crying infant than did 18-month-olds. Children at all three ages were also mildly distressed themselves by the infant's crying, and this did not decline over the second year. Both girls and children without siblings were more interested in the infant; no effects were found for gender, daycare experience, or siblings on affective concern.
    Infancy 11/2014; · 1.73 Impact Factor


Available from