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Infant Behav Dev. 2012 Dec;35(4):887-97. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2012.08.001. Epub 2012 Oct 4.

Empathy and distress: two distinct but related emotions in response to infant crying.

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Department of Psychology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA 70504-3131, United States.


This study examined a largely overlooked, yet potentially important, association between empathy and distress in cry responding. The cry stimulus included a 1-min-long video clip of a 4-week-old, crying, male infant. Participants reported their dispositional empathy and distress, perceived aversiveness of the cry stimulus, response emotions, and intention to intervene with the crying infant. Empathy and distress covaried positively both in disposition and in cry responding. Response empathy and distress were related to their corresponding dispositional emotions, but response empathy was also related to dispositional distress. Perceived aversiveness interacted with response distress in predicting response empathy. Both response empathy and distress appeared to be important determinants of intention to intervene. Overall, empathy and distress in response to infant crying appeared more closely related than previously thought. Implications concerning the regulation of emotions in cry responding are discussed.

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