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Empathic distress and concern predict aggression in toddlerhood: the moderating role of sex

Noten, M. M. P. G., Van der Heijden, K. B., Huijbregts, S. C. J., Bouw, N., Van Goozen, Stephanie and Swaab, H. 2019. Empathic distress and concern predict aggression in toddlerhood: the moderating role of sex. Infant Behavior and Development 54 , pp. 57-65. 10.1016/j.infbeh.2018.11.001

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Impaired empathy is an important risk factor of aggression, but results are contradictory in toddlerhood. The association between empathy and aggression may differ for empathic distress and empathic concern in response to empathy-evoking situations, and for boys and girls. Therefore, the current study investigated whether empathic distress and empathic concern at age 20 months (N = 133, 69 boys) predicted aggression at ages 20 and 30 months (N = 119, 62 boys), while taking a potential moderating effect of sex into account. Empathic behavior was observed during a distress simulation task 20 months post-partum. Physical aggression was assessed through maternal report, using the Physical Aggression Scale for Early Childhood. Linear regression analyses revealed sex differences in the associations between empathic distress and concern on the one hand and physical aggression at age 20 months on the other. Furthermore, physical aggression at age 30 months was predicted by the interaction of sex with empathic distress at age 20 months, while controlling for aggression at age 20 months. More empathic distress and concern were associated with less physical aggression in girls, but not in boys. The findings indicate that the prediction of physical aggression by empathic distress was more robust over time than for empathic concern. This study sheds new light on the intricate relationship between empathy, aggression, and sex from a developmental perspective.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Additional Information: This article was (co-)authored by Cardiff NDAU researchers
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0163-6383
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 November 2018
Date of Acceptance: 1 November 2018
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2020 17:34

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