Background: Empathy deficits are related to parental maltreatment, and early exposure to maltreatment is associated with later impairments in social and interpersonal skills, possibly as the result of specific deficits in cognitive and emotional empathy. Objective: To examine the association between maternal and child's emotional and cognitive empathy, and how this relationship is mediated by maltreatment risk. Participants and setting: 462 mothers of 4–10 years olds (48 % girls; M = 6.51 ± 1.57) were recruited through an online platform (Prolific Inc.) during 2018. Methods: Mothers were asked to report on their own cognitive and emotional empathy, views related to abuse risk, and their child's cognitive and emotional empathy. Results: Findings show that maternal perspective taking (a measure of cognitive empathy), and maternal personal distress predict child's cognitive empathy through abuse risk (beta = −0.29, p value = 0.0002 and beta = 0.22, p value = 0.0001, respectively). Conversely, for child's emotional empathy there was no mediation through abuse risk, rather direct associations were observed for empathic concern (a measure of emotional empathy; beta = 0.36, p value = 0.0197), personal distress (beta = 0.23, p value = 0.0332), and the fantasy scale (another measure of cognitive empathy; beta = 0.36, p value = 0.0019). Conclusions: These findings help clarify the complex links between maternal empathy, abuse risk, and child's empathy, showing that maternal views related to abuse are specifically predictive of child's cognitive but not emotional empathy. As such, these findings raise further questions regarding the mechanism by which maternal characteristics and behavior are associated with child's empathy.
- Abuse risk
- Cognitive empathy
- Emotional empathy
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health