Sympathy Through Affective Perspective Taking and Its Relation to Prosocial Behavior in Toddlers

Authors: Amrisha Vaish, Malinda Carpenter, Michael Tomasello

In most research on the early ontogeny of sympathy, young children are presented with an overtly distressed person and their responses are observed. In the current study, the authors asked whether young children could also sympathize with a person to whom something negative had happened but who was expressing no emotion at all. They showed 18- and 25-month-olds an adult either harming another adult by destroying or taking away her possessions (harm condition) or else doing something similar that did not harm her (neutral condition). The “victim” expressed no emotions in either condition. Nevertheless, in the harm as compared with the neutral condition, children showed more concern and subsequent prosocial behavior toward the victim. Moreover, children’s concerned looks during the harmful event were positively correlated with their subsequent prosocial behavior. Very young children can sympathize with a victim even in the absence of overt emotional signals, possibly by some form of affective perspective taking.

Link to Publication at APA - American Psychological Association