Recent research has suggested that individual differences in young children's capacity for empathy and altruism has heritable components and may be related to early temperament. These individual differences, like other human capacities such as intelligence, may be distributed normally. Thus, "high-empathy" children may exhibit cognitive, emotional, and behavioral precocity in empathic and altruistic responding, and begin expressing these capacities early in life. Twenty-seven 2-to 8-year-old (M = 53 months), primarily Euro-American high-empathy children (10 male) were identified by childcare center staff. Ethnographically oriented interviews of their mothers provided detailed accounts of the children's empathic and altruistic responding in everyday interactions at home and school. As a group, the children were described as emotionally positive, especially sociable individuals whose empathic and altruistic responses were highly spontaneous, occurred more frequently, and differed from peers in depth, intensity, and persistence. Parallels were drawn between these capacities and temperamental dispositions for self-regulation and emotional reactivity. Limitations of the methodology and directions of future research are discussed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology