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Predicting empathy-related responding and prosocial behavior from dispositional sadness and effortful control

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The purpose of this study was to examine whether dispositional sadness predicted children's prosocial behavior, and whether empathy-related responding (i.e., sympathy, personal distress) mediated this relation. It was hypothesized that children who were dispositionally sad, but well-regulated (i.e., moderate to

The purpose of this study was to examine whether dispositional sadness predicted children's prosocial behavior, and whether empathy-related responding (i.e., sympathy, personal distress) mediated this relation. It was hypothesized that children who were dispositionally sad, but well-regulated (i.e., moderate to high in effortful control), would experience sympathy versus personal distress, and thus would engage in more prosocial behaviors than children who were not well-regulated. Constructs were measured across three time points, when children were 18-, 30-, and 42-months old. In addition, early effortful control (at 18 months) was investigated as a potential moderator of the relation between dispositional sadness and empathy-related responding. Separate path models were computed for sadness predicting prosocial behavior with (1) sympathy and (2) personal distress as the mediator. In path analysis, sadness was found to be a positive predictor of sympathy across time. There was not a significant mediated effect of sympathy on the relation between sadness and prosocial behavior (both reported and observed). In path models with personal distress, sadness was not a significant predictor of personal distress, and personal distress was not a significant predictor of prosocial behavior (therefore, mediation analyses were not pursued). The moderated effect of effortful control was significant for the relation between 18-month sadness and 30-month sympathy; contrary to expectation, sadness was a significant, positive predictor of sympathy only for children who had average and low levels of effortful control (children high in effortful control were high in sympathy regardless of level of sadness). There was no significant moderated effect of effortful control on the path from sadness to personal distress. Findings are discussed in terms of the role of sadness in empathy-related responding and prosocial behavior as well as the dual role of effortful control and sadness in predicting empathy-related responding.

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Date Created
2012