The Origins of Empathy and Altruism

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Zahn-Waxler, Carolyn; Hollenbeck, Barbara; Radke-Yarrow, Marian
empathy; altruism; prosocial behavior; Animal Studies; Behavior and Ethology; Comparative Psychology
book chapter description
We will describe theories and research that try to explain the development, especially in children, of sensitivity to the needs of others. Are children born with empathy? Is it instinctive or learned? What kinds of changes do humane feelings and behaviors undergo as children develop? How do the environments in which children are reared determine whether they will be more or less likely to show concern and to assume responsibility for the welfare of others? We have examined these issues in a series of studies of (a) the early origins of emotional concern (empathy) and (b) the translation of concerned feelings into altruistic behaviors such as helping, sharing, and comforting. Because of an interest in the development of generalized altruism, we have studied children's prosocial orientations toward humans and animals, in many settings and over long intervals of time. We will consider the implications of theories and research findings for humane attitudes and treatment.