Chair: Maayan Davidov
Empathy comes in different forms (affective; cognitive; for others’ distress; for others’ joy; and more). Recent evidence indicates that empathic responses are rooted in early ontogeny (Davidov, Zahn‐Waxler, Roth‐Hanania, & Knafo, 2013; Liddle, Bradley, & Mcgrath, 2015; Roth-Hanania, Davidov, & Zahn-Waxler, 2011). However, many gaps in knowledge still remain regarding the development of different forms of empathy during infancy. This invited symposium seeks to narrow this gap, by presenting new data from multiple projects, examining early empathic abilities in infancy. Presentations will address different forms of early empathy, their development, as well as individual differences and their correlates. Mikko Peltola will present findings on the associations between infant’s attentional bias to faces (fearful and other) and their affective empathy and responsivity to others’ needs; Yael Paz will present findings from a new task examining infants’ cognitive empathy (emotional understanding) at 3 and 6 months (longitudinally), in which infants’ responses to visual and auditory cues of others’ emotions were assessed, when these cues were matched vs. mismatched; Tal Orlitsky will present a study examining the very early responses of infants to others’ distress and joy, from 6 weeks to 12 weeks; and Maayan Davidov will present a longitudinal study examining the development of infant’s empathic happiness (sharing in another’s positive emotion) from 3 to 36 months. Together, this invited symposium will help shed new light on the early development of different forms of empathy, and highlight promising avenues for future research in this area.
The development of infant’s empathy for others’ distress and joy from 3 to 36 months
Maayan Davidov1, Yael Paz1, Tal Orlitsky1, Ronit Roth-Hanania2, Florina Uzefovsky3& Carolyn Zahn-Waxler4
1 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; 2 Tel Aviv-Yaffo Acadeic College; 3Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; 4 University of Wisconsin–Madison
Empathy is a socio-emotional response induced by the perception of another individual’s affective state. It involves feeling an emotion similar to the one experienced by the other person. The great majority of research on empathy has focused on empathy for others’ in distress (empathic concern), to the relative neglect of empathy for others’ joy (empathic happiness). Moreover, there is a dearth of studies on the development of other-oriented empathy during the first year of life, because prior theory (Hoffman, 1975; 2001) has assumed that true empathy emerges only during the second year – a view that has come under criticism (Davidov et al., 2013). This presentation will include data from a large sample of infants, whose responses to others’ distress and others’ happiness were systematically assessed at ages 3, 6, 12, 18, and 36-months. The study helps clarify issues regarding the onset of these two forms of empathy (at what ages are they first observed?), their consistency (are early individual differences correlated across situations and across age?), their pattern of development (how do they change with age?), and their predictive power (are early empathic distress and empathic happiness levels predictive of subsequent child outcomes?). The presentation will also address the relation between, and the distinct nature, of these two types of empathy.
Very early beginnings of empathic responding: From 6 to 12 weeks of age
Tal Orlitsky, Soulina Yassin, and Maayan Davidov
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Until recently, research on empathy development has mostly focused on reactions to others’ distress. The prevailing view, following Hoffman’s Theory (Hoffman, 1975; 2000), posited that true empathy to others’ distress first appears only during the second year of life. However, recent studies support an alternative view, that empathy can already be seen during the first year of life (Davidov et al., 2013; Roth-Hanania et al., 2011). Davidov and colleagues (submitted) showed that already at twelve weeks of age, some infants display empathic reactions to others’ distress. Moreover, they found that individual differences in empathic responses were consistent across situations and age, and increased modestly over time.
The present study examined empathic development at an even younger age: From six weeks to 12 weeks (N=30). Infants’ responses to experimenters’ simulations and peer videotapes of distress and joy were assessed longitudinally at both ages. We found that modest levels of empathy for others’ distress and for others’ joy appear already at six weeks of age, and increase somewhat from 6-12 weeks. Longitudinal links across this period indicated that even this early on, individual differences in empathy are modestly consistent across age. The two types of empathy were not correlated. Moreover, social communicative behavior (cooing, social smiles) reported by mothers at 6 weeks was linked to empathy for others’ joy, but not to empathy for others in distress. Theoretical implications and future research directions will be discussed.
Attention to faces in infancy and individual differences in empathy
Mikko Peltola | Human Information Processing Laboratory, Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, Finland
Jukka Leppänen | Infant Cognition Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Finland
Saara Sääskilahti | Human Information Processing Laboratory, Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, Finland
Reeta Jääskeläinen | Human Information Processing Laboratory, Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, Finland
Tal Orlitsky | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Maayan Davidov | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Empathy and related traits form a continuum where one end is characterized by empathic, altruistic, and prosocial responses to others, while the other end is characterized by callous and antisocial behaviors. Individual differences in empathy are associated with variability in processing social information such as facial emotions, particularly signals of fear and distress. Greater attention and sensitivity to fearful facial expressions has been linked with greater prosociality and altruism, whereas antisocial traits have been associated with diminished responses to signals of fear and distress. The aim of our research is to investigate whether such associations can be observed already in infancy and early childhood. In the first study, we measured attention to fearful, happy, and neutral faces, and non-face control stimuli at 7 months of age with an eye-tracking paradigm (n= 190). Prosocial behavior was assessed with helping tasks at 24 months (n= 100) and parents reported on children’s callous-unemotional traits at 48 months (n= 118). The results showed a robust attention bias to faces at 7 months, particularly when faces displayed a fearful expression. Importantly, increased attention to faces at 7 months was correlated with more frequent helping responses at 24 months and reduced callous-unemotional traits at 48 months of age, and these associations appeared most pronounced for fearful faces. In an ongoing project (n= 129) we extend those findings by investigating whether attention to faces in infancy is associated with a more direct measure of empathic concern concurrently, i.e., already at 7 months. Attention to fearful, sad, and happy faces, and non-face control stimuli were measured with eye-tracking. Empathic concern was analyzed in response to a pain simulation performed by the experimenter and to a video presentation of a crying infant. Preliminary results from the project will be presented. Taken together, initial findings have suggested that individual differences in the continuum of empathic behavior may be reflected in infants’ tendency to look at faces and signals of distress.
Emotional understanding in infancy: Examining infants’ responses to congruent vs. incongruent emotional cues
Yael Paz1, Efrat Brown1, Robert Hepach2, Tal Orlitsky1, Florina Uzefovsky3and Maayan Davidov1
1The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; 2Leipzig University; 3Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Empathy includes two components: Affective – caring and having tender feelings toward others, and cognitive – comprehending what another person is feeling. In older children, the cognitive component is often referred to as theory of mind (e.g Blair, 2005), affective perspective taking (Denham, 1986) or hypothesis testing (Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner & Chapman,1992), but these constructs are less useful for infants, whose verbal and cognitive abilities are still limited. Assessment of the cognitive component of empathy in infants has thus typically focused on infants’ attempts to understand the other’s predicament (exploration, inquiry behavior). This approach, however, does not reveal infant’s cognitive understanding of what the other is feeling. The purpose of this talk is to present preliminary results from two new tasks, which seek to shed light on how infants understand other’s emotions. Both tasks examine infants’ responses and ability to differentiate between congruent and incongruent expressions of emotion in two modalities – visual and auditory. The sample included 100 infants, assessed in the lab using an eye-tracker, when infants were 3- and 6-months.
In Task1 infants were presented with an image of two faces – one happy (smiling) and one sad (frowning). In two out of four trials the image was accompanied by a laughter sound, and in the other two by a crying sound. Repeated measure analysis revealed significant age-by-face interaction on looking behavior (F(1,84)=11.24 p=.001): At 6-months infants prefer to look at the happy face regardless of which sound was played, whereas no such preference appeared at 3-months. Moreover, when 6-months-old infants heard laughter they showed from the beginning (first 5 seconds) preference to the happy congruent face (difference of looking time between the congruent and incongruent face significantly differed from zero: t(88)=1.79, p=.038, one-tail). However, when the 6-months-old infants herd the crying, they were more alert at the beginning of the trial, looking at the screen more than when laughter was played (F(1,74)=7.70, p=.007), and exploring more by altering their gaze between the congruent and incongruent faces (thus, the congruent-incongruent difference did not differ from zero in this case;t(87)=-1.33, p=.186). No effects were found for the 3-months-old infants.
In Task2 (a subsample of N=68) infant’s behavioral responses were assessed when they were presented with either a happy or a sad face, accompanied by either a laughter or a crying sound, creating all four combinations of congruency (happy-laughter, sad-crying) and incongruency (happy-crying, sad-laughter) (8 trials, presented in two blocks, with order randomized within block). Infants behavioral responses were coded blindly (the coders were blind to the stimuli the infant saw and heard) for the degree of positive affect and concerned affect shown by the infant. Repeated measures analysis revealed a congruency-by-sound-by-age interaction (F(1,54)=3.54, p=.065) on infants’ positive effective response. At 6-months, infants smiled more to the happy face but only when they heard laughter (i.e., there was congruency). For concerned affect, there was no interaction with congruency, but only a sound main effect (F(1,54)=6.60, p=.013), that is, 3 and 6-months-old infants were more concerned when they heard a crying sound, regardless of the face that was presented with it.
The discussion will address how both tasks indicate that infants during the first year of life, but especially at 6-monts, can already differentiate between emotions.