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date: 08 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

In this chapter, we distinguish between different forms of empathy-related responding (i.e., empathy, sympathy, personal distress) and prosocial behavior. The capacity for empathy and sympathy emerges in the early years of life and generally increases with age across childhood. Individual differences in sympathy and prosocial behavior covary, and both tend to be fairly stable across time. Prosocial tendencies are related to prosocial moral reasoning, social competence, self-regulation, and low aggression/externalizing problems. Although individual differences in prosocial and empathic/sympathetic responding are partly due to heredity, environmental factors are also associated with such differences. Authoritative, supportive parenting involving modeling, reasoning, and practices that help children to understand others’ internal states has been associated with higher levels of prosocial behavior. Moreover, securely attached children tend to be prosocial. In addition, peers and siblings can encourage, reinforce, and model prosocial behavior. School interventions, as well as experience with volunteering, appear to affect the degree to which children are sympathetic and engage in prosocial behavior.

Keywords: prosocial behavior, sympathy, empathy, personal distress, volunteerism, socialization, moral reasoning, temperament, interventions, age changes, genetics

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