Adolescent empathic concern and perspective taking: Heterogeneous developmental trajectories and childhood social and psychological factors
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OBJECTIVE: The joint developmental trajectories of empathic concern and perspective taking were examined across adolescence, along with childhood social and psychological predictors. METHOD: Adolescents completed self-report measures of empathy annually from Grades 7 to 10 (i.e., ages 13 to 16; N = 609; 53.9% girls; 76.2% White). Childhood social and psychological predictors were assessed in Grades 5 and 6 using self- and parent-reports. RESULTS: As predicted, the majority of individuals reflected a joint trajectory of moderate stable empathic concern and moderate increasing perspective taking (31.9%), followed by joint high increasing (17.2%) and joint low stable (7.4%) empathy. Fewer adolescents reflected joint trajectories of being high on one form of empathy but not the other (e.g., high empathic concern only, 1.6%; high increasing perspective taking only, 2.8%). High increasing perspective taking was a better indicator of high increasing empathic concern than the reverse. Higher childhood hyperactivity, higher bullying perpetration, and lower perceived school climate were prominent predictors of developing low levels of at least one form of empathy, but childhood anxiety was a predictor of developing high empathy. CONCLUSIONS: The skills and abilities associated with perspective taking and empathic concern should be promoted, with special attention paid to early indicators of affective, cognitive, and behavioral self-regulation.