Written by Ted HUTMAN, Mirella DAPRETTO on . Posted in Special issue: Empathy Development, Guest Editor: Elena GEANGU, Volume XIII, Nr. 4


Empathy refers to the interpersonal sharing of emotional states brought about by knowledge or observation by one person of the other person’s experience or emotional state. This review presents several models of empathy and summarizes empirical research regarding the emergence and development of componential skills. The earliest emerging skills discussed are imitation, emotion matching, and emotional contagion. We provide support for the claim that these capacities, evident from the first hours of life, strengthen the relational bonds between infants and caregivers. In the context of early attachment relationships, infants learn emotion regulation and responsiveness to affective signals. At approximately ten months, infants begin to regulate their behavior on the basis of affective messages from adults. The emergence of empathy has been studied by observing infants’ responses to other people’s distress. Responses to distress undergo changes during the second year such that self-distress responses decrease and prosocial responses increase. These changes co-occur with the achievement of several important milestones in cognitive development such as self-recognition, agency, and awareness of other perspectives. The behavioral markers of developing empathic abilities during this period are presented in conjunction with findings regarding the neurobiology of empathy in childhood. Suggestions are made for approaches to fill gaps in our understanding of the emergence of empathy during infancy.

KEYWORDS: development, empathy, emotion, affective sharing, emotional responsiveness.

PAGES: 367-390