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Volume 28 Issue 2 (May 2019), Pages 253-498

The development of interindividual differences in sympathy: The role of child personality and adults’ responsiveness to distress (pages 398-413)

Abstract In a three‐wave longitudinal study of 85 children (43 girls) at 5, 6, and 7 years of age, the role played by child personality (inhibition, aggressiveness) and adults’ responsiveness to distress in children's sympathy was examined. At all three times, sympathy was measured via standardized observations as well as children's self‐reports. Child inhibition and aggressiveness were assessed with reports by teachers at T1 and T2. Parents’ and teachers’ responsiveness to distress were inferred from interviews with the children at T1 and T2. Longitudinal analyses via latent regression using structural equation models showed that earlier sympathy explained most of the variance in later sympathy. Additionally, higher inhibition at T1 predicted less sympathy at T2. Higher sympathy at T1 predicted more adult responsiveness at T2. Higher aggressiveness at T2 predicted less sympathy at T3. Within time, at T1, sympathy was positively related to adults’ responsiveness. At T2, inhibition and sympathy were negatively related. The discussion focuses on the question of how child personality as well as parental and non‐parental socialization experiences work in concert to explain interindividual differences in sympathy.

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