Empathy in infants and toddlers
Chapter 12 endnote 38, from Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:
Human infants can comfort another infant who is in distress.
At birth, newborns cry in response to other infants crying. This is an early example of body-budget synchrony. When ten-month-olds watch films of a square block being mean to a circle, they reach for the injured party when they can choose to pick up one block or the other. Toddlers comfort one another by patting, hugging, offering a toy, or asking "You OK?"
Helping others is arousing. Two-year-old toddlers have increased peripheral nervous system arousal (measured by pupillary dilation) when they help a person, or even when they see that person being helped.
Scientists debate whether this form of empathy is innate or learned, but the evidence is clear that toddlers help others more (and share more) when their parents ask them to label and explain emotions that are depicted in storybooks.
Notes on the Notes
- Martin, Grace B., and Russell D. Clark. 1982. "Distress crying in neonates: Species and peer specificity." Developmental Psychology 18 (1): 3–9.
- Other forms of synchrony has been shown to predict comforting in toddlers. See Cirelli, Laura K., Stephanie J. Wan, and Laurel J. Trainor. 2014. "Fourteen-month-old infants use interpersonal synchrony as a cue to direct helpfulness." Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 369 (1658): 20130400.
- Kanakogi, Yasuhiro, Yuko Okumura, Yasuyuki Inoue, Michiteru Kitazaki, and Shoji Itakura. 2013. "Rudimentary Sympathy in Preverbal Infants: Preference for Others in Distress." PLoS ONE, 8(6): e65292.
- As I type this, I can't help but my daughter Sophia's two year-old voice asking "You OK?" to one of her little friends.
- Svetlova, Margarita, Sara R. Nichols, and Celia A. Brownell. 2010. "Toddlers’ Prosocial Behavior: From Instrumental to Empathic to Altruistic Helping." Child Development 81 (6): 1814-1827.
- Dunfield, Kristen A. and Valerie A. Kuhlmeier. 2013. "Classifying Prosocial Behavior: Children's Responses to Instrumental Need, Emotional Distress, and Material Desire." Child Development, 84 (5): 1766–1776.
- Hepach, Robert and others. 2012. "Young children are intrinsically motivated to see others helped." Psychological Science, 23 (9): 967-972.
- Hamlin, J. Kiley. 2013. "Moral Judgment and Action in Preverbal Infants and Toddlers: Evidence for an Innate Moral Core." Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 (3): 186-193.
- Brownell, Celia A., Margarita Svetlova, Ranita Anderson, Sara R. Nichols, and Jesse Drummond. 2012. "Socialization of Early Prosocial Behavior: Parents’ Talk About Emotions is Associated With Sharing and Helping in Toddlers." Infancy, 18 (1): 91–119.