Underlying characteristics and profiles of empathic *concern in children

Susan Marie Schermerhorn, Fordham University


This study examined underlying characteristics of empathy to create profiles of empathic concern in children. Participants were 107 third-grade students and 11 teachers from 2 suburban elementary schools. Student participants were administered the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test - Second Edition (KBIT-2; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004a); The Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC; Harter, 1985); The Altruism Questionnaire, and The Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982). Teacher participants completed The Emotion Questionnaire (Rydell, Thorell, & Bohlin, 2004) and the Behavior Assessment System for Children - Second Edition - Teacher Rating Scales (BASC-2 TRS; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) for their students. Associations between predictor variables (crystallized knowledge, fluid reasoning, negative emotionality, emotion regulation, social self-concept, altruism, aggression, social withdrawal, and interpersonal relations) and the criterion variable (empathic concern) were examined. Cluster analysis was used to identify groups of underlying characteristics of empathic concern, which were then used to develop profiles of empathic concern. The predictor variables formed three distinct clusters: Cluster 1: Antisocial (aggression, negative emotionality, and social withdrawal); Cluster 2: Prosocial (altruism, emotion regulation, social self-concept, and interpersonal relations), and Cluster 3: Cognitive (crystallized knowledge and fluid reasoning). The relationship of sex to empathic concern was also investigated and showed no significant differences between male and female participants. Cluster 3: Cognitive was significantly positively correlated with empathic concern and differentiated between levels of empathic concern. A discriminant function analysis classified participants into two groups (low and high empathic concern). Results revealed higher scores on measures of antisocial features (Cluster 1) predicted lower levels of empathic concern and higher scores on measures of prosocial features (Cluster 2) predicted higher levels of empathic concern. Most noteworthy was the significant role of cognitive functioning in empathic concern. This study identified a Cognitive Empathy function that significantly discriminated between low and high levels of empathic concern. Higher scores on measures of cognitive functioning (Cluster 3) significantly predicted higher levels of empathic concern. Results have implications for school psychologists in identifying students for social skills groups and promoting character education initiatives with an emphasis on empathy training, moral reasoning, ethical decision making, social problem solving, and a cognitive understanding of how others feel.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Schermerhorn, Susan Marie, "Underlying characteristics and profiles of empathic *concern in children" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3210279.