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Keywords:

  • empathy;
  • parenting;
  • attachment;
  • temperament

Abstract

The development, antecedents, and concomitants of empathic concern in the second year of life were examined. Associations with parental sensitivity, children's fearfulness and attachment security were investigated. At 16 and at 22 months, 125 firstborn girls from middle-class families were observed in their homes and in the laboratory. Empathic concern was assessed from the girls’ responses to simulated distress in their mothers and in an unfamiliar person. Temperamental fearfulness was observed when they were confronted with potentially scary items. Attachment security was assessed with the Strange Situation procedure, and parental sensitivity was measured in problem-solving situations both at home and in the lab. From 16 to 22 months, empathic concern for the mother's distress increased, whereas empathy for the stranger decreased. A more fearful temperament and less attachment security predicted less empathic concern for the stranger's distress. Antecedent and concurrent measures of parenting showed disappointingly weak associations with empathic concern. Empathy for strangers in distress requires the regulation of negative emotions for which fearful and insecurely attached girls seem to be less well equipped.