The Development of Empathy

10581 Words May 5th, 2011 43 Pages
The Development of Empathy
– a literature review -

[pic]

Empathy cannot be taught, but it can be caught
– Mary Gordon -

Student: Vanessa Anseline

Introduction

Empathy and caring is an essential part of human health. We love because we can empathize (Szalavitz & Perry, 2010). Empathy underlies everything that makes society work; such as altruism, collaboration, love and charity. Failures to empathize are a key part of social problems, such as crime, violence, war, racism, child abuse and inequity. Although we are genetically predisposed to care for others, the development of empathy requires a lifelong process of relational interaction (Szalavitz & Perry, 2010). More importantly, the first relationship humans experience, the
…show more content…
The metacognitive feedback plays an important role in taking into account one’s own mental competence in order to react (or not) to the affective states of others (Decety & Meyer, 2010).

This literature review of the emergence of empathy does not adhere to any particular theoretical models, but to summarize research findings about what contributes to empathic responses. Firstly, we will focus on infants’ early social interactions. We focus on imitation, emotion matching, and emotional contagion as precursors of empathy. These support the formation of strong bonds of attachment with primary caregivers. This relationship promotes reciprocal responsiveness in the infant. Following a section on emotional attunement, we discuss research relating to infants’ abilities to discriminate emotions. Responses to other people’s displays of emotion are discussed and associated with prosocial behaviour and the cognitive skills that support its development. While there is little research addressing the neurobiology of empathy during infancy, links are proposed between studies of infant behaviour and neurospscyhology studies.

Imitation, Emotion Matching, and Mirror Neurons Babies are born with two important skills to prepare them for empathy – the ability to begin to imitate facial gestures and the automatic responses in which the cries of other infants causes another infant to cry (Szalavitz & Perry, 2010). From the first hour after birth, babies can imitate several
Open Document