Behavioral and Physiological Correlates of Children's Reactions to Others in Distress

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151 Scopus citations


This study examined the behavioral and physiological correlates of children's reactions to others in distress and the relation of these to dispositional helpfulness. Thirty-seven 3rd graders and 29 6th graders watched a film about a distressed child. Facial expressions, heart rate variability (HRV), and skin conductance (SC) were recorded during the film. An index of dispositional helpfulness was obtained from children's mothers. High HRV was predictive of children's sympathetic rather than distressed reactions. For boys, sympathetic responsiveness positively predicted dispositional helpfulness; for girls, SC was inversely related to dispositional helpfulness. It was concluded that children who are able to regulate their vicariously induced emotional responsiveness are relatively likely to experience sympathy and relatively unlikely to experience personal distress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-663
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1993


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

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