The relations between temperament and empathy in 2-year-olds

Dev Psychol. 1999 Sep;35(5):1189-97. doi: 10.1037//0012-1649.35.5.1189.


The role of infant and toddler temperament in the prediction of empathy in 2-year-old children was examined. Assessments of temperament included reactivity and affect observed at 4 months of age, as well as inhibition at Age 2. Empathy was measured in 2-year-old children's responses to simulations of distress performed by their mothers and by an unfamiliar person. Children showed relatively more concern for the mother's distress, but they were also responsive to unfamiliar victims. Infants who were unreactive and showed little affect also showed less empathy toward the unfamiliar adult almost 2 years later. Inhibition toward an unfamiliar adult (but not toward the mother) at 2 years of age was negatively related to empathy. Inhibited temperament may thus have a major impact on young children's empathy in unfamiliar contexts. Findings also highlight the need to consider early underarousal as another dimension of temperament that may dampen expressions of empathic concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Psychology, Child
  • Temperament / physiology*