Variation in empathy: The interplay of genetic and environmental factors.

Ariel Knafo-Noam, Florina Uzefovsky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Where do individual differences in children's empathy come from? Assuming that children are socialized to be empathic, can we account for individual differences in empathy by parenting? And what about other environmental variables such as schooling or life events? Because empathy has a strong biological component (Barraza & Zak, 2009; Chapman et al., 2006; de Waal, 2009; Preston & de Waal, 2003), to what extent do genes account for individual differences? We address the relative contributions of genetics and the environment by meta-analyzing the extant literature. However, genetic and environmental effects cannot be seen as truly independent (Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977), and a wide range of ways in which the two work together in affecting empathy are described using data from our study of young children's empathic development. Before delving into the genetic, environmental, and joint contributions to empathy, we need to describe what we mean by it. We do not fully discuss the definition of empathy, which has been hotly debated elsewhere (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004; Batson, Fultz, & Schoenrade, 2006; Blair, 2005; Decety & Jackson, 2004; Preston & de Waal, 2003). Instead, we describe in the following sections the processes that have been proposed to underlie empathy and the cognitive and affective components of this complex construct. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe infant mind
Subtitle of host publicationOrigins of the social brain.
EditorsMaria Legerstee, David W. Haley, Marc H. Bornstein
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherThe Guilford Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781462508174, 9781462508198
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Empathy
  • Environmental Effects
  • Genetics
  • Individual Differences
  • Socialization
  • Cognition
  • Emotional States
  • Psychosocial Development
  • Parenting


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