Caring babies: Concern for others in distress during infancy

Maayan Davidov, Yael Paz, Ronit Roth-Hanania, Florina Uzefovsky, Tal Orlitsky, David Mankuta, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Concern for distressed others is a highly valued human capacity, but little is known about its early ontogeny. Theoretical accounts of empathy development have emphasized stages, but this has been called into question. This study sheds new light on four key issues: onset, consistency, development, and predictive power of early manifestations of concern for others. Three-month-old Israei infants (N = 165) were followed longitudinally at ages 6, 12, and 18 months, and their observed responses to others’ distress were assessed. Concern for distressed others was seen early in the first year of life, long before previous theories assumed. Empathic concern was moderately consistent across both situation and age, from as early as 3 months. Concern for others grew only modestly with age, plateauing during the second year, whereas prosocial behavior increased rapidly during the second year. Early individual differences in concern for others predicted later prosocial behavior on behalf of distressed others. Findings underscore the early roots of caring, and appear to refute assumptions of prior stage theories of empathy development, by showing that concern for others develops much earlier and more gradually than previously assumed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13016
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • concern for others
  • development
  • empathic concern
  • empathy
  • infancy
  • prosocial behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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