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Raising helpful kids: The perils of rewarding good behavior 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.

., all rights reserved Children-even babies-can be spontaneously kind and helpful. Can we improve on what they do naturally? Maybe. But we should tread carefully.

Studies suggest that helpful, prosocial behavior is undermined when we give kids tangible rewards for being kind. Young children show the first signs of empathy and empathic concern between 12 and 24 months. For example, children as young as 12 months can recognize when other people are in distress, and they sometimes try to comfort these people (Eisenberg and Fabes 1998). Babies can also recognize other peoples intentions and try to be helpful. For example, consider the research of Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. In an experiment on 14-month-old infants, researchers found that babies would spontaneously help a stranger by giving him objects that were beyond his reach. The babies helped the man even though he didnt ask them for help. He just triedunsuccessfullyto retrieve the objects. In most cases, the babies responded within 7 secondsbefore the man made eye contact or named the object he was trying to reach (Warneken and Tomasello 2007). Experiments on 18-month old babies have yielded similar results (Warneken et al 2007). In one experiment, babies helped a woman retrieve an out-of-reach item (a marking pen) even though they had to cross several obstacles first. (If youd like to see this for yourself, click here to download a video clip). How to spoil a good thing So thats what babies do without prompting and without being given rewards. What happens if adults offer material reward to babies for being helpful? Nothing good. Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello tested the effects of tangible rewards on 20-month old kids. The researchers assigned kids to one of three treatment groups. One group was trained to expect a material reward for helping Another group was trained to expect verbal praise The third group received no reward at all. Next, the toddlers were given the opportunity to help an adult stranger. The outcome?

Compared to the kids in the verbal praise and no reward conditions, the kids with a history of tangible rewards became lesslikely to help. Tangible rewards can spoil older kids, too Previous research on school kids has yielded similar results. In an experiment conducted by Richard Fabes and colleagues, primary school kids (grades 2-5) were offered the chance to sort stacks of colored paper (Fabes et al 1989). All the kids were told this task would benefit hospitalized children. In addition, some kids were also told that they would be given a small toy in exchange for helping. After their initial opportunity to help, kids were given a second chance to work more on the same task. This time, there was no mention of the hospital kids or the material reward. Kids were simply given the change to spontaneously continue their volunteer work. And what happened? The kids who had been given toys for helping were less helpful during the follow-up opportunity. They spent less time sorting paper and got less work done. Moreover, the results were linked with parenting. Motivation was most undermined among kids whose parents routinely used tangible rewards at home (Fabes et al 1989). Raising more helpful kids: What can we do? The research on rewarding helpers is consistent with what studies show about rewards in general: Tangible rewards arent all bad. They may increase motivation for boring tasks (Cameron et al 2001). But they may undermine motivation when Kids are already motivated to perform the task The reward is promised ahead of time Kids expect to receive the reward regardless of the quality of their performance So it appears that we encourage helpfulness more effectively when wedont offer kids prizes. Praise might seem like a good alternative. Indeed, studies have reported that mothers who praise their preschoolers good deeds are more likely to have prosocial kids (Garner 2006; Hastings et al 2007). But, like tangible rewards, praise can sometimes backfire. (For tips on using praise wisely, see this article on the science of praise.) Can we take any positive steps to encourage our childrens natural tendencies to help other people? I think so.

Psychologist Nancy Eisenberg and her colleagues suggest that kids are influenced by the example their parents set. When parents modeland explainprosocial behavior, their kids may follow suit. And it appears that helpful kids are linked with same parenting practices that predict a strong sense of empathy and empathic concern (Eisenberg et al 2006). These include Parental warmth Secure emotional attachment Emotional coaching that helps kids learn to regulate their own negative emotions, and Inductive discipline (an approach that emphasizes rational explanations rather than arbitrary punishments) Thats because kids are more likely to help when they feel empathic concern, or sympathy, for others. So perhaps there isn't any magic shortcut for raising helpful kids. Instead, we need to nurture empathy and teach kids to care.

References: Helpful kids Cameron J, Bank KM, Pierce WD. 2001 Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues. The Behavior Analyst 24: 1-44. Eisenberg, Nancy, Fabes, R A, Spinrad, T L. 2006. Prosocial development. In W. Damon (ed): Handbook of child psychology, volume 3: Social, emotional, and personality development. 5th edition. New York: Wiley. Eisenberg N and Fabes 1998. Prosocial development. In W. Damon (ed): Handbook of child psychology, volume 3: Social, emotional, and personality development. 5th edition. New York: Wiley. Fabes RA, Fulse J, Eisenberg N, et al 1989. Effects of rewards on children's prosocial motivation: A socialization study. Developmental Psychology 25: 509-515. Garner PW. 2006. Prediction of prosocial and emotional competence from maternal behavior in African American preschoolers. Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol. 12(2):179-98. Hastings PD, McShane KE, Parker R, and Ladha F. 2007. Ready to make nice: parental socialization of young sons' and daughters' prosocial behaviors with peers. J Genet Psychol. 168(2):177-200. Warneken, F. & Tomasello, M. (2008). Extrinsic rewards undermine altruistic tendencies in 20-month-olds. Developmental Psychology 44(6): 1785 - 1788. Warneken, F., Hare, B., Melis, A.P., Hanus, D., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Spontaneous altruism by chimpanzees and young children. PLoS Biology 5 (7): 1414 1420. Warneken, F. & Tomasello, M. (2007). Helping and cooperation at 14 months of age. Infancy 11(3): 271 294.

Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved Teaching empathy? This might sound strange if you think of empathy as a talent--something we either have or lack. But research also suggests that empathy is a complex phenomenoninvolving several component skills: A sense of self-awareness and the ability to distinguish ones own feelings from the feelings of others. Taking another persons perspective (or, alternatively, putting oneself in another persons shoes). Being able to regulate ones own emotional responses. These skills might seem like standard-issue, grown-up social skills, and indeed they are. However, even adults can have trouble with these abilities. For instance, some adults would shrink from offering a wounded person first aid, not because they are callous but because they have trouble coping with their own emotional reactions to the other persons plight. So I dont think of empathy as something you either have or lack. There are degrees of empathy, and, with practice and an understanding of psychology, we can probably develop stronger empathic skills. Here are some tips for teaching empathy--tips inspired by scientific research. Teaching empathy tip #1: Address your childs own needs, and teach him how to bounce back from distress Studies suggest that kids are more likely to develop a strong sense of empathy when their own emotional needs are being met at home (Barnett 1987). When kids have secure attachment relationships (so that they know they can count on their caregivers for emotional and physical support) they are more likely to show sympathy and offer help to other kids in distress (Waters et al 1979; Kestenbaum et al 1989). Other research indicates that kids are more likely to show empathic concern for others if they have parents who help them cope with negative emotions in a sympathetic, problem-solving-oriented way. For references, see this article on the case for teaching empathy. Teaching empathy tip #2: Be a mind-minded parent Treat your child as an individual with a mind of her own, and talk to her about the ways that our feelings influence our behavior Observational studies reveal a link between parenting and theory of mindi.e., what kids understand about the goals, desires, and beliefs of other people. Parents who are mind-minded treat their offspring (no matter how young) as individuals with minds of their own. They also talk to their children about emotional and mental states, and discuss the ways that our beliefs, desires, and emotions motivate behavior. For more information about these studiesand an experiment illustrating the importance of mental state talksee this article on mind-mindedness.

Teaching empathy tip #3: Seize everyday opportunities to modeland inducesympathetic feelings for other people By modeling empathic behavior--and pointing out situations that call for empathyparents can generate sympathetic responses in their kids. For example, if you and your child see someone being victimized (in real life, on TV, or in a book), talk with your child about how that person must feel (Pizarro and Salovey 2002). Teaching empathy tip #4: Help kids discover what they have in common with other people Experiments suggest that kids are more likely to feel empathy for individuals who are familiar and/or similar to them (e.g., Zahn-Waxler et al 1984; Smith 1988). Kids may also find it easier to empathize with people who theyve shared unpleasant experiences with (Murphy 1937). So its probably helpful to make kids aware of the similarities they may share with other people. The more we can humanize the victims of distress or tragedy, the better kids will be able to respond with empathy. Teaching empathy tip #5: Teach kids about the hot-cold empathy gap Have you ever noticed how hard it is to appreciate the power of a food craving when you arent hungry? This is what researchers call the hot-cold empathy gap, and it appears to be a universal problem. When people are feeling cool and collected, they underestimate how compelling emotionally or physiologically hot stateslike hungercan be. Conversely, people in the grip of hot states often underestimate how much their current perceptions are influenced by their situation. The hot-cold empathy gap leads to mistakes in judgment and failures of empathy. But once we understand how the hot-cold empathy gap works, we can use it to teach empathy. For example, we can use moments of discomfort as opportunities to induce empathy for others: Did your child get the brush-off from the school snob? You might start a conversation about the experiences of other victimsand note how these episodes can help us avoid acting like snobs ourselves. Coping with a miserable family car trip? Ask kids to imagine how their ancestors felt during arduous, dusty, treks in horse-powered carts and wagons. We might also help kids teaching them about the hot-cold empathy gap. For instance, kids may have unrealistic attitudes about their ability to control their urges and emotionsand keep making mistakes as a result. Research on the empathy gap suggests that trying to resist temptation may be less effective than simply avoiding situations that give rise to temptation. So some kids need to learn that self-control isnt just about being strong. Its also about being smart. If you need to get your homework done, keep distractionslike that cell phoneout of sight. If your peers are pressuring you act to uncharitably towards uncool kids, maybe you should spend your time with other, more pleasant, people. Teaching empathy tip #6: Help kids explore other roles and perspectives

As noted in the introduction, empathy involves perspective-taking. What is the world like when experienced from another persons point of view? Storiesfrom books or televisionare opportunities for kids to practice perspective-taking skills. What do the characters think, believe, want, or feel? And how do we know it? When families discuss these questions, kids may learn a lot about the way that other peoples minds work. Studies show a link between such family conversations and childrens performance on perspective-taking tasks (Dunn et al 2001). In addition, research on autistic children hints that kids may benefit from explicit coaching. In one study, three autistic kids watched an adult describe how he figured out what another character would think and do next (e.g., These footprints are a clue. Hell follow these footprints to the treasure chest and open it up). The technique helped kids solve similar problems on their own (LeBlanc et al 2003). And dont forget role playing games. In one experimental study, researchers asked young, healthy medical students to simulate the difficulties of old age. For example, students wore goggles covered with transparent tape to simulate the effects of cataracts. To experience poor motor control, the students wore heavy rubber gloves. After the experiment, the students showed greater empathy towards the elderly (Varkey et al 2006). Teaching empathy tip #7: Show kids how to make a face while they try to imagine how someone else feels. Suppose I tell you to make a sad face. Its just play acting, right? Not really. Experiments show that simply going through the motions of making a facial expression can make us experience the associated emotion. And its not just our imagination (whatever that phrase means). When researchers have asked people to imitate certain facial expressions, they have detected changes in brain activity that are characteristic of the corresponding emotions. People also experience changes in heart rate, skin conductance, body temperature (for a concise summary, see Decety and Jackson 2004). So it seems likely that we can boost our empathic powers by imitating the facial expressions of people we want to empathize with. Pretty cool, huh? And its not a new idea. As neuroscientists Jean Decety and Philip L. Jackson point out, this method was suggested by Edgar Allen Poe in his short story the Purloined Letter. Teaching empathy tip #8: Help kids develop a sense of morality that depends on internal selfcontrol, not on rewards or punishments Kids are capable of being spontaneously helpful and sympathetic. But experimental studies have shown that kids become less likely to help others if they are given material rewards for doing so. Other research has shown that kids are more likely to develop an internal sense of right and wrong if they

are raised with authoritative , inductive discipline--an approach that emphasizes rational explanations and moral consequences, not arbitrary rules and heavy-handed punishments. For instance, kids are more likely to internalize moral principles when their parents talk to them about how wrong-doing affects other people--inducing empathy and feelings of guilt (Hoffman and Saltzein 1967). Teaching empathy tip #9: Teach (older) kids about mechanisms of moral disengagement Research has demonstrated that average, well-adjusted people can be persuaded to harm otherseven torture themas long as they are provided with the right rationale. In a famous series of experiments developed by Stanley Milgram of Yale University, subjects were told that they were participating in a learning experiment that required them to administer painful electric shocks to another person (Milgram 1963). The experiment was a fakedressed up with plausible props and an actor who pretended to be in pain after the study participants pressed a button. But the participants were fooled andurged on by an authoritative man in a white lab coatthey dutifully administered shocks to the screaming victim. In fact, almost 65% of participants continued to press the button even after the victim had appeared to fall unconscious (Milgram 1963). These people werent psychopaths. They were ordinary people exposed to social pressure from a plausible authority figure. With the right rationalizations, otherwise decent people can disengage their moral responses. And its not just an adult phenomenon. Kids can do it, too. I think its a good idea for older kids to learn about Milgrams research and about the kinds of rationalizations that people use to excuse callous or cruel behavior. For more information, check out this article on mechanisms of moral disengagement. Teaching empathy tip #10: Inspire good feelings (and boost oxytocin levels) through pleasant social interactions and physical affection An interesting experiment suggests that higher levels of oxytocin can help people better decode the emotional meanings of facial expressions. Researchers had 30 young adult males inhale oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) and then examine photographs of other peoples eyes. Compared to men given a placebo, the oxytocin men were better at interpreting the emotions of the people in the photographs (Domes et al 2006). So perhaps kids will find it easier to understand the emotional signals of others if they are well-supplied with their own, naturally-produced oxytocin. Oxytocin is released when people experience pleasant touching (like hugs and massage). Its also produced when people engage in pleasant social interactions (UvnsMoberg 2003).

Other helpful ideas for teaching empathy For related information, check out these research-inspired social skills activities for children and teenagers.

References: Tips for teaching empathy

Barnett MA. 1987. Empathy and related responses in children. In N Eisenberg and J Strayer (eds): Empathy and its development. New York: Cambridge University Press. Decety J and Jackson PL. 2004. The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience reviews 3(2):71-100. Dunn J, Brown J, Slomkowski C, Tesla, C and Youngblade L. 1991. Young childrens understanding of the other peoples feelings and beliefs: Individual differences and their antecedents. Child Development 62: 1352-1366. Hoffman ML and Saltzein HD. 1967. Parental discipline and the childs moral development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 5: 45-57. Kestenbaum, R., Farber, EA & Sroufe, LA (1989). Individual differences in empathy among preschoolers: Relation to attachment history. In N. Eisenberg LeBlanc LA, Coates AM, Daneshvar S, Charlop-Christe MJ, Morris C and Lancaster BM. 2003. Using video modeling and reinforcement to teach perspective-taking skills to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 36:253-257. Martin GB and Clark RD. 1987. Distress crying in neonates: Species and peer specificity. Developmental Psychology 18: 3-9. Milgram S. 1963. Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67: 371-378. Murphy LB. 1937. Social behavior and child personality: An exploratory study of some roots of sympathy. Columbia University Press. Pizarro DA and Salovey P. 2002. Being and becoming a good person: The role of emotional intelligence in moral development and behavior. In J Aronson (ed): Improving Academic Achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education. San Diego: Academic Press. Smith PK 1988. The cognitive demands of children's social interactions with peers. In RW Byrne and A Whiten (eds.), Social experience and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes, and humans. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Varkey P, Chutka DS, and Lesnick TG. 2006. The Aging Game: improving medical students' attitudes toward caring for the elderly. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 7(4):224-9. Waters E, Wippman J, and Sroufe LA. 1979. Attachment, positive affect and competence in the peer group: Two studies in construct Zahn-Waxler C, Hollenbeck B and Radke-Yarrow. 1984. The origins of empathy and altruism. In MW Fox and LD Mickley (eds): Advances in animal welfare science. Humane Society of the United States. This article about teaching empathy is based on research published before 2009. Content last modified 3/9.

The case for teaching empathy: Why we shouldnt expect empathy to just emerge 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved

Teaching empathy? A skeptic might wonder if it makes any difference. Cant we assume that empathy will emerge automatically, as part of the developmental process? After all, even babies show signs of empathy. For instance, experiments confirm that newborn babies are more likely to cry if they hear recordings of other infants in distress. And normally-developing infants begin to show empathic concern for their family members between the age of 12 and 24 months (Zahn-Wexler et al 1992). But that doesnt mean that full-blown empathy and empathic concern will just emerge if parents do nothing. Our sense of empathy is heavily influenced by experience. A 21st century pet lover might feel more empathy for her dog than an upper-class Athenian of the 4th century B.C. would have felt for his wife (or his slave). In this article, I review the evidence for teaching empathy. Can caregivers make a difference? I think so. As I note below, we have many good reasons to suspect that parenting influences the development of empathy. Ill go over these points: Human empathy involves a whole package of skills and social beliefs. Most of these must be learned. Numerous studies have reported a link between parenting practices and empathy in children. Genetics might explain some of the differences between individuals. But experiments demonstrate that adults can learn to be more sensitive and responsive. If grown-ups can learn empathy, why cant kids? In addition, I offer these ten tips for teaching empathy.

Teaching empathy: What kids need to learn We might define empathy as the sharing of another persons feelings: Sam winces in pain. Emma, who watches, feels distressed. There is actually neurological evidence for this sort of phenomenon. When kids see other people getting hurt, their brains respond in a characteristic way. The same neural circuits that process first-hand experiences of pain are also activated by images of pain in others. But there is more to human empathy than merely sharing another creatures pain. Neuroscientists Jean Decety and Philip L. Jackson argue that human empathy requires several components (Decety and Jackson 2004). In addition to sharing feelings, the empathic person also needs to be capable of A sense of self-awareness and the ability to distinguish ones own feelings from the feelings of others. When Emma watches Sam wince, she feels his pain. But does she understand the source of her discomfort? If Emma lacks self-reflection, she might not recognize that Sam is the one in real trouble.

Taking another persons perspective. Emma loves broccoli, Sam hates it. So how does Sam feel when hes told he cant leave the table until he finishes his broccoli? It might be hard for Emma to recognize Sams feelings without understanding his point of view. Being able to regulate ones own emotional responses. Its not pleasant to witness someone elses distress. If empathy were merely about sharing feelings, then, we might expect empathic people to withdraw from creatures in distress. To show empathic concern, or sympathy, Emma needs to control her own responses to Sams pain. There are other factors, too. People are more likely to show empathy if They are on familiar terms with the victim They perceive similarities between themselves and the victim They have experienced the victims circumstances themselves And our willingness to show empathic concern is tempered by our moral and political beliefs. Who deserves our empathic concern? Societies offer different answers to this question. Very often, the answers are about whos considered one of us. A recent survey of preindustrial societies found that people who feel strong loyalty to their own social group are more willing to consider violence against outsiders. They are also more likely to enjoy warfare (Cohen et al 2006). People may also disagree about what situations demand empathy. For instance, young children frequently fail to respond to the speech of others, even when they are old enough to understand whats being said. These kids are developmentally normal. They just dont think its necessary to acknowledge other people. Judging from my own experiences in the United States, some American parents seem content to let these children remain unresponsive. But things may be different in Japan. Japanese culture stresses omoiyari,or showing sensitivity to others. Children are encouraged to attend and cater to the needs of other people. And mothers dont let their children get away with ignoring other people. If a toddler fails to respond to the request or question of another person, the mother repeats it. She also conveys a sense of urgency to the child. The snubbed person needs acknowledgementright away (Clancy 1986). Moms may even put words in the persons mouth, as when a child accidentally hurts another person and fails to apologize: Grandma says, Ouch, ouch! Or consider a situation in which most parents dont want their kids to be swayed by empathy: Your teenager gets involved with Joe, an emotionally disturbed drug addict who is desperate for money. Should she help Joe steal-because she feels sorry for him? So the development of empathyand our beliefs about the people and situations that deserve our empathic concern--are influenced by a variety of factors.

But the key point is this: Almost all of these factors are subject to learning, and, therefore, to the influence of parents: Parents can encourage children to reflect on their own feelings, and distinguish these from the feelings of other people. Parents can encourage kids to imagine the perspectives of other people. Parents can teach children how to soothe themselves and bounce back from negative emotions Parents can teach empathy by humanizing and personalizing the victims of suffering Parents can teach their children when it is appropriate to use empathy Sounds plausible, right? But is there evidence that such practices are effective ways of teaching empathy?

Does parenting make a difference? The evidence for teaching empathy In fact, I havent found any experimental evidence showing that parentingcauses kids to develop a strong sense of empathy. To date, the studies that address this question are mostly observational and report correlations only. But the correlations are consistent with the idea that parenting makes a difference. Some examples: Sensitive, responsive parenting and secure attachments. Studies tracking children from an early age have reported that kids with secure attachment relationships show greater empathy, stronger emotional coping skills and more developed moral sensibilities (Elicker et al 1992; Easterbrooks et al 2000; Kerns et al 2007; Kochanska and Murray 2000).Secure attachments are promoted by sensitive, responsive parenting practices, so it seems plausible that such practices contribute to the development of empathy. Emotional coaching. Parents who help their kids cope with negative emotions (by discussing them in a sympathetic, problem-solving-oriented way) have kids who are friendlier and more empathic. Parents who tend minimize or brush off their childrens emotions have kids who are less socially competent (Davidov and Grusec 1996; Denham 1997; Denham et al 1997; Denham 1989; Denham and Grout 1993; Eisenberg et al 1996). Rational, explanation-based discipline. An American study has reported that parents who used inductive discipline (an approach that emphasizes the reasons for rules and the logical consequences for bad behavior) have kids who show more concern for other people and more remorse for committing misdeeds (Krevan and Gibbs 1996). Limiting your childs exposure to high-intensity displays of negative emotion. A study of American 9-year olds found that boys were more physiologically responsive to empathy-inducing images when their mothers expressed low- or moderate levels of negative emotions at home. Boys with mothers who expressed high levels of negative emotions were less well-adjusted (Liew et al 2003). Oxytocin. Experiments report that adult men who inhaled oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) performed better on tests requiring them to read the emotions of other people by looking at their eyes (Domes et al 2008). Studies suggest that both males and females produce their own oxytocin when they are engaged in

pleasant social interactionsincluding small talk and hugs. So kids who grow up in oxytocin-friendly environments might have an easier time learning to interpret nonverbal cues of emotion. What about genetics? Maybe there are heritable traits that make people more empathic AND more likely to practice the parenting practices described above. Its easy to imagine how that would work. Presumably, sensitive, responsive parenting is more appealing to parents who are more empathic to begin with. So the correlation between parenting style and child empathy might reflect the influence of shared genes. But even if genetics explains some of the differences between individuals (and I think they probably do), its clear that environmental factors play a role in the way that people express empathy. If this werent true, then we couldnt train adults to become more sensitive and responsive. But we can. In one study, medical students took part in a role-playing game that simulated the special problems of the elderly. For example, to recreate the experience of having cataracts, the students wore goggles covered with transparent tape. To recreate the loss of fine motor coordination, the students wore heavy rubber gloves (Varkey et al 2006). The results? After the experiment, participants became significantly more empathic and caring for real elderly patients. This doesnt mean that the same approach to teaching empathy will work for all ages. Young children dont have the same capacity for perspective-taking that older kids do. Nor are they capable of the same degree of self-control. So we need to adjust our efforts according to the childs stage of development. But, as mentioned above, most normally-developing kids start showing empathic concern for their family members before they are two years old. I suspect these young minds are ready to learn a lot about the feelings of others. More information: Evidence-based tips for teaching empathy For more information about teaching empathy, see these evidence-based tips. References: The argument for teaching empathy Clancy PA. 1986. The Acquisition of Communicative Style in Japanese. In B. Schieffelin and E. Ochs (eds): Language Socialization Across Cultures. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 213-50. Cohen TR, Montoya RM, and Insko CA. 2006. Group morality and intergroup relations: cross-cultural and experimental evidence. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2006 Nov;32(11):1559-72. Davidov M and Grusec JE. 2006. Untangling the links of parental responsiveness to distress and warmth to child outcomes. Child Dev. 77(1):44-58.

Decety J and Jackson PL. 2004. The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience reviews 3(2):71-100. Denham SA. 1997. When I have a bad dream, my Mommy holds me: Preschoolers conceptions of emotions, parental socialization, and emotional competence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 20: 301-319. Denham, SA, Mitchell-Copeland J, Strandberg K, Auerbach S and Blair K. 1997. Parental contributions to preschoolers' emotional competence: Direct and indirect effects. Motivation and Emotion 21:6586. Denham SA 1989. Maternal affect and toddlers social-emotional competence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59: 368-376. Denham SA and Grout L. 1993. Socialization of emotion: Pathway to preschoolers affect regulation. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 17: 215-227. Domes G, Heinrichs M, Michel A, Berger C, and Herpertz SC. 2007. Oxytocin improves "mind-reading" in humans. Biol Psychiatry. 61(6):731-3. Elicker J, Englund M and Sroufe LA 1992. Predicting peer competence and peer relationships in childhood from early parent-child relationships. In RD Parke and GW Ladd (eds), Family-Peer Relationships: Modes of Linkage. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Easterbrooks MA, Biesecker G, and Lyons-Ruth K. 2000. Infancy predictors of emotional availability in middle childhood: the roles of attachment security and maternal depressive symptomatology. Attach Hum Dev. 2(2):170-87. Eisenberg N, Fabes RA, Murphy BC. 1996. Parents' reactions to children's negative emotions: relations to children's social competence and comforting behavior. Child Dev. 67(5):2227-47. Kerns KA, Abraham MM, Schlegelmilch A, and Morgan TA. 2007.Mother-child attachment in later middle childhood: assessment approaches and associations with mood and emotion regulation. Attach Hum Dev. 9(1):33-53. Krevans J and Gibbs JC. 1996. Parents use of inductive discipline: relations to childrens empathy and prosocial behavior. Child Development, 67: 3263-77. Liew J, Eisenberg N, Losoya SH, Fabes RA, Guthrie IK, and Murphy BC. 2003. Children's physiological indices of empathy and their socioemotional adjustment: does caregivers' expressivity matter? J Fam Psychol. 17(4):584-97. Varkey P, Chutka DS, and Lesnick TG. 2006. The Aging Game: improving medical students' attitudes toward caring for the elderly. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 7(4):224-9. Zahn-Wexler C Radke-Yarrow M, Wagner E and Chapman M.1992. Development of concern for others. Developmental psychology 28(1): 126-136. Empathy and the brain 2008 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved Human empathy depends on the ability to share the emotions of othersto feel what other people feel.

It is regarded by many people as the foundation of moral behavior. But to some, the concept seems rather airy-fairy. What does it mean to say I feel your pain? Isnt that just a fanciful flight of the imagination? Well, not really. For one thing, it turns out nonhuman animals-even rodents-show evidence of empathy. For another, it appears that empathy has a neurological basis. The same brain regions that process our first-hand experiences of pain are also activated when we observe other people in pain. Moreover, when we observe the emotional signals of others, we recruit brain regions associated with theory of mind, the mechanism that permits us to take the perspective of another person (Schulte-Rther et al 2007). This theory of mind mechanism-along with the ability to keep our own emotional reactions under controlmay be of crucial importance for showing empathic concern, or sympathy. A person who lacked theory of mind or the ability to self-regulate emotions might focus solely on her own emotional reactions to another persons plight. She might respond aversively to the victim, or--absorbed by her own emotional agitation--she might even become aggressive. Empathy, then, involves a package of abilities. Heres a quick guide to the biology of empathy, including information about the development of empathy in children. Empathy among nonhuman animals In one experiment, 15 rhesus monkeys were trained to get food by pulling chains. Monkeys quickly learned that one chain delivered twice as much food than the other. But then the rules changed. If a monkey pulled the chain associated with the bigger reward, another bystander monkey received an electric shock. After seeing their conspecific get a shock, 10 of the monkeys switched their preferences to the chain associated with the lesser food reward. Two other monkeys stopped pulling either chainpreferring to starve rather than see another monkey in pain (Masserman et al 1964). Mice, too, respond to the display of pain by their companions. Researchers at McGill University put pairs of mice together and injected one or both of them with a substance that induces mild stomach ache. Mice reacted to the pain by wriggling and stretching their legs. But the intensity of the reaction depended on social cues. Mice wriggled and stretched more when their companions were also in pain (Langford 2006). Moreover, mice exposed to the sight of a suffering cage mate were quicker to back away from an unpleasant heat sourcesuggesting that witnessing their companions discomfort made mice more sensitive to their own pain. Empathy in children

So there is nothing particularly human about finding the painful experiences of others unpleasant. But why is second-hand pain unpleasant or upsetting? New research by neuroscientist Jean Decety suggests a fascinating neurological link between our own, first-hand experience of pain and our perception of pain in other people. When typically developing kids (aged 7 to 12 years) were presented with images of people getting hurt, the kids experienced more activity in the same neural circuits that process first-hand experiences of pain (Decety et al 2008a). This automatic response--termed mirroringhas also been documented in adults (Jackson et al 2006). The phenomenon may reflect the activation of mirror neurons, nerve cells that fire both when a person performs an action and he sees that action being performed by others. To date, researchers have identified specific neurons involved in the mirroring of hand movements (Rizzolatti and Craighero 2004). No one yet has isolated specific mirror neurons for pain or emotion. More than mirrors Mirror neurons may explain how we can experience secondhand pain or emotion. But to respond with empathic concern, we need other information, too. We need to understand the perspectives of other people. We also need to overcome our own negative reactions to the display of another persons pain or distress. Brain-imaging research seems to confirm this link between theory of mind and empathy. For instance, when people have been asked to evaluate the emotional facial expressions of others, they showed activation in the brain regions associated with theory of mind tasks (Schulte-Rther et al 2007). And theory of mind is probably important in other ways. For instance, Jean Decety and his colleagues have investigated how the brain distinguishes between the victims of accidents and victims of aggression. The neural basis of morality? To better understand how theory of mind contributes to the perception of second hand pain, Decetys team showed kids two sets of images. One set depicted people experiencing painful accidents. The other set showed people who were being victimized by aggressors (Decety et al 2008a). In both scenarios, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that merely looking at images activated brain regions associated with the first-hand experience of pain. But when kids watched images of one person deliberately inflicting pain on another person, additional brain regions (in the orbital medial frontal cortex and the paracingulate cortex) were activated.

Brain imaging research and studies of brain-damaged patients suggest that these regions are associated with social interaction, emotional self-control, and moral reasoning (Blair 2007; Sturm et al 2006). Were the additional brain regions activated because the kids were engaged in social and moral thinking? It seems very plausible. The activation wasnt caused by the mere presence of multiple people in the images, because researchers controlled for that. And, when kids were debriefed at the end of the experiment, most of them commented on the unfairness with which the victims had been treated. Empathy and the brain: When kids are cruel The study mentioned above measured the responses of normally-developing kids. What about kids who show a cruel streak? Decetys group conducted a similar fMRI study on teenage boys with conduct disorder, or CD. This disorder is a serious psychiatric condition linked with behaviors like physical aggression, manipulative lying, sexual assault, cruelty to animals, vandalism, and bullying. Its also a precursor to antisocial personality disorder in adulthood (Lahey et al 2005). Researchers screened boys (aged 16-18) for CD, and showed them the same types of images of accidents and assaults mentioned above. The results were very interesting. I feel your painand it makes me lash out In some respects, the boys with CD responded like boys in the control group. In particular, the mirror neuron system for pain was activated in both groups. But there were dramatic differences. First, the boys with conduct disorder experienced less activation in brain regions associated with self-regulation, theory of mind, and moral reasoning. Second, the boys with CD actually exhibited a stronger mirror response to accidentally-caused pain. And, unlike controls, the boys with conduct disorder experienced strong, bilateral activation in the amygdala and striatum. What does this mean? Its not clear. The amygdala processes emotion. And the striatum is activated by strong stimuliboth pleasurable and aversive. So there are at least two possibilities.

The aggressive boys might have gotten a pleasurable kick out of viewing the pain of others. But given that their own pain centers were strongly activated, its also possible that observing second-hand pain triggered negative emotionsemotions that make the boys behave more aggressively. As Decety and his colleagues point out, negative emotionsparticularly in people with poor emotional controlcan cause agitation and outbursts of aggression (Berkowitz 2003). This effect may be magnified in kids who have trouble distinguishing their own first-hand pain from the pain of others. Decety and colleagues speculate that boys with conduct disorder may experience high levels of agitation or distress when they experience second-hand pain. When this distress is combined with poor self-regulation of emotion, they lash out. But whether second-hand pain makes aggressive kids feel good or irritable, one thing seems pretty certain: The brains of boys with conduct disorder responded more intenselyto images of other people experiencing pain. And this intensity was linked with the boys aggressive tendencies. The more strongly a boys brain responded to second-hand pain, the more highly he scored on measures of daring and sadism. Can empathy be taught? Animal studies and brain scan research might make us wonder if feeling empathy is a purely automatic process. But, as noted above, empathy is really a package of abilities, and there is evidence that empathy and empathic concern can be shaped by experience. For more information, see this article on the importance of fostering empathy and these pratical tips for fostering empathy in kids.

References: Empathy and the brain Blair RJR. 2007. The amygdale and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in morality and psychopathology. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11: 387-392. Decety J, Michalska K, and Akitsuki Y. 2008a. Who caused the pain? An fMRI investigation of empathy and intentionality in children. 46(11):2607-14 Decety J, Michalska K, Akitsuki Y and Lahey BB. 2008b. Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation. Biological Psychology. In press. Jackson PL, Brunet E, Meltzoff AN, and Decety J. 2006. Empathy examined through the neural mechanisms involved in imaging how I feel versus how you feel pain: An event-related fMRI study. Neuropsychologia 44: 752-761. Langford DJ, Crager SE, Shehzad Z, Smith SB, Sotocinal SG, Levenstadt JS, Chanda ML, Levitin DJ, and Mogil JS. 2006. Social Modulation of Pain as Evidence for Empathy in Mice. Science. 312(5782):1967-70.

Masserman JH. Wechkin S, and Terris W. 1964. Altruistic behavior in rhesus monkeys. American Journal of Psychiatry 121: 584-585. Rizzolatti G. and Craighero L. 2004. The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169-92. Schulte-Rther M, Markowitsch HJ, Fink GR, and Piefke M. 2007.Mirror neuron and theory of mind mechanisms involved in face-to-face interactions: a functional magnetic resonance imaging approach to empathy. J Cogn Neurosci. 19(8):1354-72 Sturm VE, Rosen HJ, Allison S, Miller BL, and Levenson RW. 2006. Self-conscious emotion deficits in frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Brain 129: 2508-2516. The hot-cold empathy gap: What parents (and kids) needs to know 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved Call it an empathy gap or call it a failure of imagination. When people are calm and comfortable, they have trouble appreciating the power of hot affective states or driveslike fear, hunger, exhaustion, or thirst. Conversely, people in the grip of hot states fail to realize how much these states influence their behavior. So we make errors of judgment. We miscalculate how unpleasant it will be if we dont pack enough water for that bike trip. Or we fail to understand that our sense of despair is a fleeting symptom of sleep deprivation. That our mood will improve after a good nights sleep. This empathy gap can prevent us from anticipating what our own, future experiences will be. Its part of what makes peopleadults and childrenseem fickle or short-sighted about their own best interests. For instance, suppose I offered to pay you money to visit my lab next week and perform a painful task say, immersing your hand in ice cold water. How much would you charge for this little sacrifice? Thats the question that psychologists David Read and George Loewenstein posed to some university undergraduates (Read and Loewenstein 1989). You might think that people would be pretty good at pricing their own pain. But their answers depended on prior experience. People who had just sampled the effects of ice-water immersion demanded the most money for doing it again. People who had experienced the pain before, but not recently, asked for less monetary compensation. People who had never experienced the pain demanded the least amount of money of all.











One study asked recovering heroin addicts to put a price on buprenorphine, or BUP, a methadone-like maintenance drug. Researchers told the addicts that--five days hence--they would be able to choose between a cash gift and an extra dose of BUP. How much money would they require to reject the extra drug dose? Patients asked for more money if they were currently experiencing a strong drug craving (Giordano at al 2004). Another study addressed the effects of the empathy gap on social fear. College students were offered a future acting gig--$2 compensation to mime in front of their classmates one week later. Among the students who predicted their willingness to mime, many changed their minds when the date of their scheduled performance arrived (Van Boven et al 2004, summarized in Loewenstein 2005). Interestingly, these students also overestimated their classmateswillingness to perform as mimes. Perspective-taking and the empathy gap If people have difficulty predicting their own desires and actions, how do they handle the feelings of other people? As the miming study suggests, the hot-cold empathy gap is linked with perspective-taking: We seem to project what we are feeling onto other people. Leaf Van Boven and George Loewenstein tested this idea at a university gymnasium (Van Boven and Loewenstein 2003). The study involved two groups of peoplethose who hadnt started exercising yet, and those who had just finished a vigorous, 20-minute cardiovascular workout. People in both groups were asked to read a story about hikers who got lost in the woods without food or water. Then they were asked to imagine how the hikers felt. Which would be more unpleasant, hunger or thirst? The participants answers depended on how thirsty they were at the time. Compared to people who hadnt begun exercising, the people who had just finished exercising--and who were hotter and thirstier as a resultwere more likely to rate thirst as more unpleasant than hunger (Van Boven and Loewenstein 2003).

Implications: Minding the gap In many ways, these studies confirm our everyday experience. Things feel very different in the heat of the moment. We already knew that, right? But thats the rub. People dont act like they know it.

If they did, they would be more consistent in their judgments. Theyd consider how their current state might be affecting their perceptions and make adjustments for it. Theyd do a better job avoiding hot situations that provoke them to behave rashly. And they might become better caretakers, too. Studies show that hospital patients--even terminal cancer patients and children--are routinely under-medicated for pain (Twycross 2006; Van Hulle Vincent 2005). So I think we can take a lesson from this research. We cant assume that our natural reactions are reliable. We need to deliberately remind ourselves of the empathy gap and take steps to compensate. Most obviously, this applies to the way we take care of our kids. Parents and children are frequently in different affective states. Some examples: Babies must frequently experience feelings of frustration and helplessness. Kids get frightened of things that dont faze adults. Teenagers may be more self-conscious and more overwhelmed by sexual feelings. You can think of more. Although I can find no research on the subject, Id wager that parents who deliberately reflect on the empathy gap have more success recognizing and sympathizing with their childrens problems. And we can help our kids by teaching them about the hot-cold empathy gap. Tips for teaching kids about the hot-cold empathy gap Kids sometimes behave in ways that seem fickle, insensitive, or weak-willed. As parents, we can explain to our kids why these behaviors are undesirable. But we can do more. By teaching them about the hot-cold empathy gap, we might help kids learn practical skills to improve. For example, we can try these tactics: Explain how the hot-cold empathy gap works. Even adults have trouble bridging the gap between hot and cold states. Talk to your child about situations where you have miscalculated, and how your affective state played a role. Use your childs errors as opportunities for discussion and reflection. How was she influenced by her affective state? Encourage your child to take a problem-solving approach. If shes ever in the same situation, what can she do to avoid making the same mistake? Encourage kids to cool off before they make important decisions. Help kids identifyand avoidsituations where they may face powerful temptations. Help kids prepare for the inevitable. Is your child going to visit the dentist? Or perform at a recital? Or ensure a long car trip? Talk with your child ahead of time about what to expect. Teach empathy. Encourage your child to consider the perspectives of other people. Is it hard to relate? Help them remember times when they were in similar hot states themselves. And try to bridge the empathy gap towards others with these practical tips for teaching empathy.

References Loewenstein G. 2005. Hot-cold empathy gaps and medical decision making. Health Psychology 24(4) Suppl. S49-S56. Read D and Loewenstein G. 1999. Enduring pain for money: Decisions based on the perception and memory of pain. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 12: 1-17. Twycross A. 2007. Children's nurses' post-operative pain management practices: an observational study. Int J Nurs Stud. 44(6):869-81. Van Boven L and Loewenstein G. 2003. Social projection of transient drives. 29(9): 1159-1168. Van Boven L, Kiewenstein G, Welch N and Dunning D. 2004. The illusion of courage: Underestimating the impact of fear of embarrassment on the self. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Van Hulle Vincent C. 2005. Nurses' knowledge, attitudes, and practices: regarding children's pain. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 30(3):177-83.

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