Respiratory sinus arrhythmia, effortful control, and parenting as predictors of children's sympathy across early childhood

Zoe E. Taylor, Nancy Eisenberg, Tracy L. Spinr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations


The goal of this study was to examine physiological and environmental predictors of children's sympathy (an emotional response consisting of feelings of concern or sorrow for others who are distressed or in need) and whether temperamental effortful control mediated these relations. Specifically, in a study of 192 children (23% Hispanic; 54% male), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a measure thought to reflect physiological regulation, and observed authoritative parenting (both at 42 months) were examined as predictors of children's effortful control (at 54 months) and, in turn, children's sympathy (at 72 and 84 months). Measures of both baseline RSA and RSA suppression were examined. In a structural equation model, observed parenting was positively related to children's subsequent sympathy through its positive relation to effortful control. Furthermore, the indirect path from baseline RSA to higher sympathy through effortful control was marginally significant. Authoritative parenting and baseline RSA uniquely predicted individual differences in children's effortful control. Findings highlight the potential role of both authoritative parenting and physiological regulation in the development of children's sympathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Early childhood
  • Effortful control
  • Parenting
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)
  • Sympathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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