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Dev Psychol. 2011 Nov;47(6):1792-803. doi: 10.1037/a0025309. Epub 2011 Sep 5.

The "cost of caring" in youths' friendships: considering associations among social perspective taking, co-rumination, and empathetic distress.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


The current research considered the costs of caring in youths' friendships. The development of a new construct, empathetic distress, allowed for a direct test of the commonly held belief that females suffer greater vicarious distress in response to close others' stressors and problems than do males. Empathetic distress refers to one's strongly sharing a relationship partner's distress over problems to the point of taking on the partner's distress and experiencing it as one's own. This new construct was examined in an ethnically diverse sample of early adolescents who responded to a series of questionnaires in their classrooms. Results indicated that girls did experience greater empathetic distress in friendships than did boys. In addition, the current research revealed that social perspective taking in friendships (i.e., the social-cognitive ability to infer and understand the friend's perspective) had adjustment trade-offs in that it predicted greater positive friendship quality but also greater empathetic distress in the friendship. Interestingly, the associations of social perspective taking with both positive friendship quality and empathetic distress were partially mediated by co-rumination or excessive discussion of problems. Applied implications of the findings that girls' greater social perspective taking and associated co-rumination contributed both to their greater positive friendship quality but also to greater costs of caring in the form of empathetic distress are discussed.

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