Anticipatory concern: A study in autism

Institute of Child Health, University College London, UK.
Developmental Science (Impact Factor: 3.89). 04/2009; 12(2):249-63. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00762.x
Source: PubMed


There has been substantial research on children's empathic responsiveness towards distressed people, and on the limited responsiveness of children with autism. To date, however, there have not been experimental studies to test how far children show concern towards someone who might be expected to feel badly, when that person has not (yet) expressed any negative feelings. We tested matched groups of children with autism and learning disability, and typically developing children of similar verbal mental age (approximately 6 years), with a novel procedure in which participants witnessed one person (E1) tearing the drawing of another (E2). In a comparison condition, a blank card was torn. In the torn-drawing condition, as predicted, fewer participants with autism orientated towards E2 with an immediate look, and as a group, they were rated as showing less concern for, and fewer concerned looks towards, E2. We discuss possible implications for theoretical perspectives on the early development of empathy in typically as well as atypically developing children.

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Available from: Jessica Anne Hobson, Oct 05, 2015
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    • "The few studies that do exist examining prosocial behaviors in children with autism found that while children with ASD engage in simple helping and sharing (Liebal et al., 2008), they are unlikely to respond to observations of distress (e.g., Sigman et al., 1992; Travis et al., 2001; Hobson et al., 2009). When given the opportunity to respond to all three varieties of prosocial behavior in a controlled experimental paradigm (see Section “Methods” in Dunfield et al., 2011), children with ASD responded to material desire and emotional distress, but surprisingly, not instrumental need (Dunfield et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: The development and maintenance of prosocial, other-oriented behaviors has been of considerable recent interest. Though it is clear that prosocial behaviors emerge early and play a uniquely important role in the social lives of humans, there is less consensus regarding the mechanisms that underlie and maintain these fundamental acts. The goal of this paper is to clarify inconsistencies in our understanding of the early emergence and development of prosocial behavior by proposing a taxonomy of prosocial behavior anchored in the social-cognitive constraints that underlie the ability to act on behalf of others. I will argue that within the general domain of prosocial behavior, other-oriented actions can be categorized into three distinct types (helping, sharing, and comforting) that reflect responses to three distinct negative states (instrumental need, unmet material desire, and emotional distress). In support of this proposal, I will demonstrate that the three varieties of prosocial behavior show unique ages of onset, uncorrelated patterns of production, and distinct patterns of individual differences. Importantly, by differentiating specific varieties of prosocial behavior within the general category, we can begin to explain inconsistencies in the past literature and provide a framework for directing future research into the ontogenetic origins of these essential social behaviors.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Frontiers in Psychology
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    • "One line of work has explored whether children can experience concern even in the absence of any perceptual access to a victim's distress. In one study, 6-year-old children who observed an adult being harmed (another adult destroyed her artwork) showed expressions of concern for her even though she did not display any distress (Hobson et al., 2009). A further study found that even 18-and 25-month- old children showed greater facial concern for an adult who was harmed but displayed no distress than for an adult who was not harmed. "
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    ABSTRACT: The fact that humans cooperate with nonkin is something we take for granted, but this is an anomaly in the animal kingdom. Our species’ ability to behave prosocially may be based on human-unique psychological mechanisms. We argue here that these mechanisms include the ability to care about the welfare of others (other-regarding concerns), to “feel into” others (empathy), and to understand, adhere to, and enforce social norms (normativity). We consider how these motivational, emotional, and normative substrates of prosociality develop in childhood and emerged in our evolutionary history. Moreover, we suggest that these three mechanisms all serve the critical function of aligning individuals with others: Empathy and other-regarding concerns align individuals with one another, and norms align individuals with their group. Such alignment allows us to engage in the kind of large-scale cooperation seen uniquely in humans.
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    • "Between the first and second years of life, children start to perform prosocial actions in response to others’ distress, with these actions increasing in frequency and variety over development [19]. A recent study demonstrated that even in the absence of any cues indicating another person’s distress, children as young as 18 months sympathize with an adult who has been harmed and subsequently act prosocially towards the adult such as by sharing resources with that person ([20], using a procedure adapted from [21]). In that study, children in one condition witnessed an adult being harmed (e.g., her necklace was taken by another person) and children in a second condition witnessed the adult not being harmed (her necklace was not taken). "
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    ABSTRACT: Prosocial behaviours such as helping, comforting, or sharing are central to human social life. Because they emerge early in ontogeny, it has been proposed that humans are prosocial by nature and that from early on empathy and sympathy motivate such behaviours. The emerging question is whether humans share these abilities to feel with and for someone with our closest relatives, the great apes. Although several studies demonstrated that great apes help others, little is known about their underlying motivations. This study addresses this issue and investigates whether four species of great apes (Pongo pygmaeus, Gorilla gorilla, Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus) help a conspecific more after observing the conspecific being harmed (a human experimenter steals the conspecific’s food) compared to a condition where no harming occurred. Results showed that in regard to the occurrence of prosocial behaviours, only orangutans, but not the African great apes, help others when help is needed, contrasting prior findings on chimpanzees. However, with the exception of one population of orangutans that helped significantly more after a conspecific was harmed than when no harm occurred, prosocial behaviour in great apes was not motivated by concern for others.
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