Humans are complex beings with many parts that come together to make us who we are. One such thing that plays a part in human complexity is Empathy. Empathy has been defined as “a concept involving cognitive as well as affective or emotional domains. The cognitive domain of empathy involves the ability to understand another person’s inner experiences and feelings and a capability to view the outside world from the other person’s perspective. The affective domain involves the capacity to enter into or join the experiences and feelings of another person.
The affective relationships that elicit emotional response are conceptually more relevant to sympathy than to empathy” by the American Journal of Psychiatry which is sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association. For the purpose of this essay empathy will be defined as the ability for someone to share and understand another’s feelings. We as humans are all born with the capability to empathize. However, how our empathetic reactions develop is decided by how we are raised and what we observe and are taught as infants and young children.
There are different aspects of children’s lives that help to shape their abilities to empathize; such as the mother-child relationship and interaction when they are infants. Empathy is a interesting and complicated part of human interaction that is continuously changing and developing from the time a child is born into their twenties. Infants as young as 18 hours old when exposed to other infants cries respond with cries of their own. This is seen in hospital nicu’s all the time, it is a common occurrence known as reflective crying or emotional contagion.
This reaction is seen as a sort of forerunner to the development of empathy as infants this young are not yet able to completely distinguish themselves from others. This is viewed as a sort of precursor to empathic reactions instead of just a natural response to a noise disturbance around them because in studies done by Simner, Martin & Clark as well as Sagi & Hoffman the infant’s cry was stronger as a reaction to another infant’s cry than to another noise such as: silence, synthetic crying sounds or non-human crying.
This reaction also supports the thought that humans have a biological predisposition to an interest in and response to others negativity. The infant time period of a child’s life is crucial to their development of empathy. How a parent interacts with their child, how they approach the topic of emotions, how they express emotions, how they treat their child, how compassionate they are towards their child. There is also a distinctive effect that synchrony between mother and child has on a child’s empathic development.
The more synchrony shown between mother and child in early infancy the deeper empathic reactions shown later on between mother and child. Infants also use facial mimicry to internalize the emotional experiences of others such as their parents, this helps them slowly develop more of an emotional sort of empathy. An infant might mimic their parent or siblings facial expressions such as a smile. Smiling may cause the infant to feel happy which means they in a way share the other person’s emotional.
The more the child does this the more automatic and more like emotional empathy it will become. Mimicry is an essential part of the development of empathy because it is how the children first begin internalize and share others emotions. Toddlers also use a form of mimicry to develop another type of empathy. Toddlers tend to mimic actions of those around them who may be in distress. For example if someone hurts their leg and grabs it a toddler may also grab their leg and proclaim that their leg now hurts as well.
This is the toddler internalizing the other person’s injury and helping the to better understand it, by mimicking and internalizing others injuries this helps the child develop cognitive empathy otherwise referred to as theory of mind. The leap from infants empathic ability to toddlers empathic abilities is quite great. Whereas infants mimic facial expression in an attempt to understand toddlers have already developed this and are now able to react to the empathy they feel and do something to try and help the person they feel empathy towards.
For younger toddlers around 14 months that most likely can not verbalize their feelings or comforts yet this empathy is shown through actions such as hugging, patting the other person’s back or sharing toys. Older children around 18-24 months are beginning to speak and so their empathy can now be shown through simple phrases such as “i’m sorry,” “are you okay? ” and “why are you sad? ” They can now give advice and know that distracting the person will help.
At the age of three toddlers begin to show concern through facial expression and verbal cues in response to someone else’s suffering. Toddlers make big strides in empathic development, they go from mimicry to being able to express their concerns for another person and act on them in the form of comfort or distraction. The more a child’s brain develops, the more they learn about themselves, language, and emotion the more their empathic ability grows. As a child begins to enter their preschool and kindergarten years so around the ages of 4-5 they begin to develop more cognitive empathy.
This occurs because as a child’s knowledge and correct use of language grows so does their ability to use their imagination to develop realistic scenarios and in a way put themselves in their peers shoes as if to experience what they experience. This helps with cognitive development. Children around this age are learning to see things from others perspectives and this helps them to understand how others may feel and help them identify with that experience. The children’s empathic reaction is now more of a sympathetic reaction that is based off of what the other person feels instead of the child’s own experience.
This means the kids can help each other more now because they understand to a greater depth what their friend is going through and how they feel so they know more effectively and what might make them feel better. Around the end of Middle School girls begin to turn 13 and are starting to go through puberty and this means their bodies are undergoing changes. For girls from the age of thirteen onward their cognitive empathic capabilities begin to grow and stay stable throughout their adolescents.
This means that they are able to take on and accurately represent others perspectives in a more effective manner. This allows them to have an easier time forming healthy relationships. Empathy is important to a relationship because it helps to facilitate the upkeep of the relationship. It is shown that the ability to take on multiple perspectives as well as the ability to empathize can be associated with the concepts of trust and comfort with how well a person knows you or how close a person is to you.
A display of empathy may make a person feel like they can open up to you or trust you more it may also make the person feel closer to you. The ability to take on multiple perspectives is proven as a useful conflict resolution skill as well. Boys, however, experience a slight decline in empathetic behaviors from the ages of thirteen to sixteen. It is often most noticed by parents, but is probably felt by peers and may explain many common high school occurrences between boys and girls.
Boys recover their empathy and sensitivity in their late teens. The decrease in boys empathy and sensitivity can partially be attributed to puberty which comes with a sudden boost in testosterone which can create a craving for power and dominance over others. Boys who matured more physically faster tended to display less empathetic concerns. During this time there is also a lot of outside pressure on teenage boys from the media as well as their peers and possibly families to “be a man’or “act like a man.
Because within our culture men are often seen as tough, strong, funny and emotionally detached this may lead teenage boys to suppress empathy in order to fit in with their peers and feel accepted. In some cases teens may seem insensitive or unkind merely because they are overwhelmed by their emotions and empathetic concerns and are unsure how to process them or deal with them. Dads also have a special role to play in teen empathy. Teens who have involved fathers who talk to them and who are supportive tend to be more adept at perspective taking.