Behavioral Manifestations of Empathy at an Early Age: Based on the Testing of a Standardized Experimental Procedure “Simulated Adult Distress”

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The development of empathy at an early age (12-36 months) is gaining more and more attention due to the growing understanding of its importance in motivating care and prosocial behavior. The authors present the results of testing the standardized experimental procedure “simulated adult distress,” which is most often used in foreign psychology to study empathy in young children: the experimenter and the mother in the presence of the child take turns showing signs of pain/discomfort of low intensity for a short time. The study involved 12 girls aged 19-32 months. The children’s behavior was recorded by categories: hypothesis testing, empathic personal distress, empathic concern (care), and prosocial behavior. The study presents descriptions of behavioral manifestations in all the categories as well as a description of the identified phenomenon of repetition of adult behavior in the children aged 22-28 months. The results of the study allow to conclude that the use of the “simulated adult distress” procedure is promising for identifying empathy phenomena characteristic of an early age.

About the authors

Tatiana D. Karyagina

Moscow State University of Psychology & Education; Psychodemia Ltd

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1999-0839

Ph.D. in Psychology, Associate Professor of the Department of Individual and Group Psychotherapy, Faculty of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education; Researcher in the Laboratory of Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy, Psychodemia Ltd

29 Sretenka St, 1 Moscow, 27051, Russian Federation; 9 Lyalin Pereulok, bldg 1, Moscow, 101000, Russian Federation

Marina A. Tomchuk

Moscow State University of Psychology & Education

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4694-3947

Master of Psychology, graduate of the master's degree program “Children's and Family Psychotherapy,” Faculty of Counseling and Clinical Psychology

29 Sretenka St, 1 Moscow, 27051, Russian Federation


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Copyright (c) 2022 Karyagina T.D., Tomchuk M.A.

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