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Affective empathy and the feeling of sympathy in 5-year-olds

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Emotion elicitation has been used for over 30 years to investigate children’s affective responses to other people’s distress but the meaning of children’s responses to such stimuli remains unclear. Two expressions, sadness and worry-concern, have frequently been taken as evidence of ‘online’ affective empathy but the relationship between these expressions has not been systematically investigated, and both could represent, under certain conditions, the child’s personal distress rather than his/her affective empathy. In this talk we address the nature of 5-year-old¹s affective responding to a plausibly empathy-inducing event, and the meaning of that behaviour in terms of its time dependent relation to unfolding events, its relation to physiological indices of empathy and emotion management, and its relation to other indices of children¹s empathic understanding and social competence during children¹s first year of school. Together, these data help to clarify the nature of affective empathy in childhood, and its likely relation to the feeling of sympathy for others.

This talk is part of the Centre for Family Research Seminar Series series.

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