Empathy development from 8 to 16 months: Early signs of concern for others

The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, Israel.
Infant behavior & development (Impact Factor: 1.34). 05/2011; 34(3):447-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2011.04.007
Source: PubMed


The study examined the responses of typically developing infants to the distress of another, prior to and following the transition to the second year. Infants' responses to maternal simulations of distress and to a peer distress videotape were observed from 8 to 16 months, using an accelerated longitudinal design (overall n = 37). Modest levels of affective and cognitive empathy for another in distress were already evident before the second year, and increased gradually (and not always significantly) across the transition to the second year. Prosocial behavior was rare in the first year and increased substantially during the second year. Self-distress reactions were rare overall. Individual differences in cognitive and affective empathy assessed in the first year, particularly at 10-months, predicted the levels of prosocial behavior observed in the second year. No gender differences were found. Theoretical implications and future research directions are discussed.

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    • "For example, in a study of adults' thinking about others' emotions, variation in the gene ZNF804A related to neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and left temporoparietal cortex (Walter et al., 2011). Similarly, it would be important to study the biological aspects of prosocial and empathic responding from an early age, due to the accumulating evidence for the early emergence of relevant behaviors (e.g., Hamlin et al., 2011; Roth-Hanania et al., 2011). There is little developmental research on the neural bases of such behaviors, and we located no longitudinal study covering meaningful developmental ground on the topic. "

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    • "At the behavioral level, we do have evidence that older infants and toddlers do engage more in trying to understand the situation that led to another's distress and their emotions (Roth-Hanania et al., 2011), and that this ability, and not the affect sharing per se, keeps developing beyond infancy and toddlerhood (Knafo et al., 2008). Infants and toddlers' abilities to engage social cognitive processes in understanding another's plight are strongly related to their ability to manifest sympathetic concern and with the emergence of their other-oriented prosocial behavior (Nichols et al., 2009; Roth-Hanania et al., 2011). Already at the age of 8 months, infants manifest clear, although moderate, signs of sympathetic concern for another's distress. "

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    • "There is some suggestion that toddler girls may show more affective concern than boys to adults (Knafo et al., 2008; Volbrecht et al., 2007; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow et al., 1992; Zahn-Waxler , Robinson et al., 1992), with this effect becoming more pronounced with age (Zahn-Waxler et al., 1992). However, gender effects have been inconsistent when infants' responsiveness to other children is examined (Gill & Calkins, 2003; Roth-Hanania et al., 2011; Spinrad & Stifter, 2006). Because gender differences in early prosocial behavior have been less thoroughly examined than those in later childhood, relatively little is known about their origins, particularly toward other children (Eisenberg et al., 2006). "
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    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; 20(1). DOI:10.1111/infa.12066 · 1.73 Impact Factor
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