Posted by & filed under Altruism Prosocial Behaviour, Child Development, Cognitive Development: Piagetian and Vygotskian Approaches, Development of the Self, Disorders of Childhood, Early Social and Emotional development, Families and Peers, Human Development, Intervention: Children and Adolescents, Social Cognition, The Self, Uncategorized.

Description: Figuring out how other people are feeling, especially when they are experiencing different emotions than we are is quite a challenge. When can preschoolers do this? Do they have to figure it out using some sort of cognitive emotional analysis or might they start by more simply empathically resonating with another’s emotional state?

Source: Medical Press: Children begin to empathize with others at a younger age than expected

Date: April 10, 2015

Toddler Empathy

Photo Credit: Henrike Moll


Developmental psychologists have suggested based on research that young children (in their early preschool years) are not capable of reading or empathizing with the emotional states of others when other persons’ emotions are different than their own. But perhaps asking toddlers to engage in a cognitive critical analysis of how someone else might be feeling is simply asking an unnecessarily complex question. Research by Henrike Moll takes a simpler approach. If you find yourself watching a scary or emotionally gripping film with friends watch how your friends respond to what they see on the screen or television. Can you see signs of empathy for the characters in the film in your friends’ actions? Moll watched closely how two and three year olds reacted physically as they watched a puppet who had most of their cookies stolen by an evil (well at least a not nice) other puppet. It was clear to Moll that her young participants knew (empathically) how the puppet felt when realizing its cookies were gone.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What would you ask a 3 year old if you were trying to figure out whether he or she tracked the emotional experiences of others?
  2. What would you look for in the behaviour of a 3 year old if you were trying to figure out whether he or she tracked the emotional experiences of others?
  3. What are some of the implications of Moll’s research findings (in terms of family functioning, children’s television programming etc? How might her findings relate to the foundations of intervention programs like the (Canadian) “Roots of Empathy” program (

References (Read Further):

Moll, H., Thompson Kane, S., & McGowan, L. (in press). Three-year-olds express suspense when an agent approaches a scene with a false belief. Developmental Science.