Mechanisms used by young children in the making of empathic judgments


  • This article is based upon a masters thesis written by the first author under the supervision of the second author We wish to thank committee members Patricia Worden and Edward Stearns for their help and encouragement We also wish to express our appreciation to Keith Widamen for his help with the final analysis of the data

Requests for reprints should be sent to Judith G Gibbs, Department of Psychology, California State University—Fullerton, Fullerton, CA 92634


Forty-four preschool children ranging from three to five years of age received a series of stones in which the protagonists experience happiness, sadness, or fear These protagonists were portrayed as either similar or dissimilar to the child, and the situations depicted were either familiar or unfamiliar to him/her as well The children's task was to infer the emotions experienced by the protagonists Results indicate that children were more accurate in judging the emotions of similar target persons than they were for dissimilar ones Familiarity with the situation, on the other hand, had no effect on accuracy Children were more accurate in identifying happiness and sadness than they were in judging fear, and age was positively related to judgmental accuracy for the former two but not for the latter These results help to resolve the controversy arising from earlier studies of empathy development which failed to disentangle the similarity and familiarity dimensions