Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Attachment Security and Child's Empathy: The Mediating Role of Emotion Regulation

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Attachment Security and Child's Empathy: The Mediating Role of Emotion Regulation

Article excerpt

The current study examined the influence of multiple factors on individual differences in empathy; namely, attachment, negative emotionality, and emotion regulation. A total of 63 mothers completed the Attachment Q-set and questionnaires about their children's empathy, negative emotionality, and emotion regulation when children were 3 years old. Prosocial behavior was observed during a baby-cry procedure. Results of path analyses indicated that a model with attachment predicting empathy through the mediation of emotion regulation was the best fit for the data. Specifically, more-secure children were rated higher in emotion regulation and, consequently, higher in empathy. Furthermore, the optimal model was used to test empathy as a predictor of observed prosocial behavior. Here, children higher in empathy were observed to behave more prosocially. Overall, the results support the notion that more-secure children are more empathic because they are better emotion regulators.

The ability to empathize with another individual has long been considered to have positive consequences for social interactions and relationships (see Davis, 1996). Empathy, or an affective concern for an individual in distress (Young, Fox, & Zahn- Waxier, 1999), serves as a precursor of prosocial and moral behavior and an inhibitor of aggressive behavior, all of which can improve the quality of relationships (Davis, 1996; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987; Hoffman, 1990; Strayer & Roberts, 2004). Given the apparent social implications of empathy, many researchers have been interested in the factors that predict individual differences in empathie responding. For example, attachment theory emphasizes the significance of the security within the caregiver-child relationship for empathie responding. Although empirical support has been provided for this association (Kestenbaum, Färber, & Sroufe, 1989; van der Mark, van Ijzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2002), the process of how attachment influences empathy in young children is less clear. Moreover, Eisenberg and her colleagues (e.g., Eisenberg & Fabes, 1995; Eisenberg et al., 1996) have established the importance of an individual's emotion regulation ability and level of negative emotionality in determining an empathie response, but have not examined these factors in tandem with attachment. Thus, the goal of the current study was to examine whether emotion regulation and negative emotionality mediate the link between attachment and empathy in young children.

Attachment Security and Empathy

Attachment security stems from a child understanding and trusting that the caregiver will be available and responsive in times of distress, based on a history of the caregiver's responding (Bowlby, 1969, 1988). Specifically, a figure who consistently, sensitively, and appropriately responds to a distressed child will promote a secure attachment (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Secure children are able to use their caregivers as a secure base from which they feel comfortable to explore the environment but also, when in distress, appropriately signal for or approach the caregiver (Ainsworth, 1979). Alternatively, caregivers who reject their children's distress signals or who respond to them in ways that are inconsistently sensitive promote feelings of insecurity. Over time, children form internal working models, or cognitive representations, of themselves, their caregivers, and relationships, and these models interpret and predict the behaviors of the self and others in relational experiences (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999). Secure children develop internal working models of the self as deserving of care, others as trustworthy and dependable, and relationships as positive and worthwhile (Fivush, 2006).

Attachment security may affect individual differences in empathy in multiple ways. First, sensitive caregivers model empathy for their children, and, in turn, this pattern of behavior would likely be integrated into secure children's internal working models as a script of how to respond toward others in distress (Hojat, 2007). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.