Patterns of development in early empathic behavior: Environmental and child constitutional influences


  • JoAnn L. Robinson

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Colorado, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, National Institute for Mental Health, Robert N. Emde, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
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  • The results reported here were made possible through collaboration of a group of investigators that also included J.C. DeFries and D. Fulker at the University of Colorado; J. Campos at the University of California at Berkeley; J. Kagan at Harvard University; R. Plomin at the Pennsylvania State University; and J. Steven Reznick at Yale University and was supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    The authors wish to thank the families who generously contributed their time to this project. We also wish to thank the research assistants at IBG who were involved in data collection, behavioral coding, and data management and Sandra Pipp for her helpful comments. Reprint requests should be sent to the first author at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics, Campus box 447, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309.

concerning this paper should be addressed to Dr JoAnn L. Robinson, Research Director, MacArthur Longitudinal Twin Study, University of Colorado at Boulder, Institute for Behavioral Genetics, Campus Box 447, Boulder, CO 80309-0447, USA.


The second year of life is a period of developmental change and instability in empathic expressions. In this study, we identify specific developmental patterns of global empathy during the second year and investigate maternal style, family environment, and temperamental factors as moderator influences on these patterns of development. The sample consists of 158 children selected from twin pairs whose empathic development had been previously studied at 14 and 20 months of age. Planned comparisons within specific groups (initially high, mid-range, or low empathy) tested the difference between children who changed versus those who remained stable. Maternal style, family climate, and child temperament variables significantly differentiated children among different patterns of development. Child gender was an additional moderator of family influences on development among those children whose empathic responses were initially low. These findings suggest the importance of distinguishing patterns of development based on where in the range of behaviors development is tracked.