Children’s empathy in context: Individual abilities embedded in social processes

S. Roerig, F. van Wesel, S.J.T.M. Evers, L. Krabbendam

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePosterOther research output


In neuropsychological and neuro-scientific research, empathy is often approached as an individual ability, whereas researchers in the field of anthropology focus on empathy as a dialectic process between two (or more) people. In our study we work as an interdisciplinary research team combining and comparing these theoretical frameworks within a specially developed three-level design: (1) Lab-life: children’s individual abilities based on empathy components are measured using self-reports, psychological tests, and behavioural tasks, (2) ‘As if’ life: children’s individual abilities to engage with other children’s enacted emotions are examined in a controlled but interactive research setting by means of an innovative Theatre Test, (3) Daily life: we investigate whether and how individual children participate in empathic processes as they occur in their classrooms hereby using participant observation and social network analysis. Preliminary results suggest that the contextual information as collected on the daily life level, is crucial to understand children’s individual social actions. In general a difference between concrete ways in which children interact socially - doing - and empathy as understood through cognitive ability - knowing - occurs. More particular children’s individual motives to behave in a prosocial way and/or display their empathic insights seem under the influence of either the supervision of their teacher and the related ‘school rules’ on what desired social behaviour entails, or the presence of their in-group peers. The constant dynamics of contextual rules and friend networks hereby seems to inform children’s empathic behaviours apart from children’s empathic theoretical knowledge and ability scores.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event12th Conference of the European Sociological Association. Praag. - Praag
Duration: 1 Jan 20151 Jan 2015


Conference12th Conference of the European Sociological Association. Praag.

Bibliographical note

Place of publication: Praag


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