The role of self-concept development in the development of empathic concern during infancy
Empathy, the ability to feel for another person, is considered an important mediating factor in the development of social competence, moral sense, and altruistic behavior. The role of self-concept development in the development of empathy was examined in infants ages 8 to 18 months. Thirty-seven infants (21 girls, 16 boys) were observed at home while interacting with their mothers, at three time points (2 months apart) for each infant. There were four groups of infants who began their participation at different ages, starting ages were: 8, 10, 12, or 14 months. Assessment of self concept (particularly two domains: self-recognition and self-representation) was based on maternal report and individual tasks administered at 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 months. At 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 months, empathy was measured by observing infants' responses to distress simulated by their mothers and to a 60 second video depicting another infant crying. Multivariate analyses of repeated measures were conducted to assess the effects of age and gender on self-concept and empathy development. Findings indicated that infants' ability to differentiate self from others increased with age following a significant linear trend. Infant's empathic responses to distress exhibited by their mothers became more complex as the infants grew older with prosocial (helping behavior) emerging at 12 to 14 months. Within any age group, “nonempathic” responses (aggression, anger, positive affect) occurred only rarely. Gender differences in empathy development were inconsistent. A series of simple regression analyses indicated that age changes in empathy related behaviors during the first and second year of life were associated with infants' growing ability to differentiate self from others. This study provides evidence for the presence of empathy early on in life within typically developing infants. While noting the gradual development of empathy during the first and second year of life, results of this study may be used in better understanding atypical development of socio-emotional responsiveness in infants. Future research should consider replicating this study with at-risk populations (i.e., premature and low-birth weight infants, infants of low socioeconomic background) as well as with families of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Roth-Hanania, Ronit, "The role of self-concept development in the development of empathic concern during infancy" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3037228.