Baby empathy: Infant distress and peer prosocial responses

Mitzi-Jane Liddle, Benjamin Bradley, Andrew McGrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Empathy is an important competence in our social world, a motivator of prosocial behavior, and thought to develop throughout the second year of life. The current study examined infants' responses to naturalistic peer distress to explore markers of empathy and prosocial behavior in young babies. Seventeen 8-month-old infants participated in a repeated measures design using the "babies-in-groups" paradigm, with maternal presence as the independent variable. Significant differences were found between response types: Gaze was the standard response to infant distress, followed by socially directed behaviors and affect, with self-distress rarely occurring. Maternal presence was not found to impact the nature or frequency of babies' responses to peer distress. During distress episodes, babies looked preferentially at the distressed peer, then other mothers, and least to their own mother. Data revealed that infant responses to peer distress resulted in a successful cessation of that distress episode over one third of the time. Case studies are provided to illustrate the quantitative data. The results provided evidence of empathic concern and prosocial behavior in the first year of life, and provoke a challenge to developmental theories of empathy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-458
Number of pages13
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Baby empathy: Infant distress and peer prosocial responses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this