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Child Abuse Negl. 2008 Nov;32(11):1063-71. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2008.03.003. Epub 2008 Nov 14.

Empathy and child neglect: a theoretical model.

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  • 1University of Basque Country, Spain.



To present an explanatory theory-based model of child neglect. This model does not address neglectful behaviors of parents with mental retardation, alcohol or drug abuse, or severe mental health problems. In this model parental behavior aimed to satisfy a child's need is considered a helping behavior and, as a consequence, child neglect is considered as a specific type of non-helping behavior.


The central hypothesis of the theoretical model presented here suggests that neglectful parents cannot develop the helping response set to care for their children because the observation of a child's signal of need does not lead to the experience of emotions that motivate helping or because the parents experience these emotions, but specific cognitions modify the motivation to help.


The present theoretical model suggests that different typologies of neglectful parents could be developed based on different reasons that parents might not to experience emotions that motivate helping behaviors. The model can be helpful to promote new empirical studies about the etiology of different groups of neglectful families.

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