Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Neuroticism Moderates the Relation between Parenting and Empathy and between Empathy and Prosocial Behavior

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Neuroticism Moderates the Relation between Parenting and Empathy and between Empathy and Prosocial Behavior

Article excerpt

Empathy, or the ability to experience an emotion consistent with the distress of others, is a critical skill that enables children to function adaptively in a social context. Thus, empathy is a negative predictor of aggression (Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 2000), bullying (Olweus, 1993), and conduct disorder in childhood as well as antisocial behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Bernstein, 1996). Empathy is also positively associated with prosocial behavior and higher levels of moral reasoning (Eisenberg & Eggum, 2009; Malti, Gummerum, Keller, & Buchmann, 2009). Presumably, individuals who are able to understand and sympathize with other people's distress are motivated to help them as well as to avoid hurting them.

Some studies have assessed the role of temperament, particularly behavioral inhibition or fearfulness, as well as that of socialization experiences or parenting in the development of empathy in young children. Less frequently studied has been the role of personality or temperament (with the latter often described as a subset of personality) in the development of adolescents ' empathy, and even scarcer are studies looking at the interaction between personality and parenting in the socialization of empathy (Bates & Pettit, 2015). The effects of parenting and personality on adolescent empathy, as well as their interaction, were the primary focus of the present study. The particular aspect of personality we assessed was neuroticism.

Parenting and Empathy

There is considerable evidence that parenting is a predictor of empathy and other, related, socioemotional outcomes. Negative affect on the part of the parent, such as rejection or lack of availability, has been found to decrease the child's empathie capacity (Hyde, Shaw, & Moilanen, 2010). Laible, Eye, and Carlo (2008) found that adolescents who reported that their parents used high levels of inductive discipline and low levels of power assertion were more likely to score high on sympathy and empathie anger-that is, anger when others are victimized. Using a sample of university students, Schaffer, Clark, and Jeglic (2009) found that permissive parenting was associated with decreases in empathie responding. This effect however, was not present for authoritarian parenting, a result that underlines the specificity of negative disciplinary parenting practices in their effects on aspects of children's emotional development. Inconsistent discipline, which is considered to be a specific dimension of permissive parenting (Robinson, Mandleco, Olsen, & Hart, 2001), is defined as the lack of follow-through in the maintenance of and adherence to standards of conduct and mies, as well as unpredictability in the administration of negative consequences (Chamberlain & Patterson, 1995; Melby et ah, 1998): It has also been linked to behaviors that involve low levels of empathie responding. Indeed, several studies have identified parental inconsistent discipline as one of the most important family factors predicting children's major behavioral and emotional problems, as well as adolescents' engagement in delinquent behavior (Dwairy, Achoui, Abouserie, & Farah, 2006; Halgunseth, Perkins, Lippold, & Nix, 2013; Sanders & Ralph, 2005). Accordingly, we focused on this specific dimension of parenting in the present investigation.

Temperament/Personality and Empathy

Neuroticism in adolescents and adults is defined as negative emotionality that includes fear, anxiety, and guilt and is often linked to a higher risk for internalizing symptoms (Matthews, Saklofske, Costa, Deary, & Zeidner, 1998). Individuals who are high in neuroticism are more likely to interpret ordinary events as threatening and are frequently shyer and more selfconscious (Hettema, Neale, Myers, & Prescott, 2006). In contrast, those who are low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable and less reactive to stress. Behavioral inhibition in children is defined as the tendency to be shy and to react with fear and withdrawal to unfamiliar situations (Kagan, Snidman, Zenter, & Peterson, 1999). …

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