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Dev Psychol. 2014 Mar;50(3):881-8. doi: 10.1037/a0034325. Epub 2013 Sep 16.

Perspective taking and empathic concern in adolescence: gender differences in developmental changes.

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Research Centre Adolescent Development, Utrecht University.
Department of Developmental Psychology, VU University Amsterdam.
Research Centre Adolescent Development, Tilburg University.


Empathy is an important social skill and is believed to play an essential role in moral development (Hoffman, 2000). In the present longitudinal study, the authors investigated adolescents' development of perspective taking and empathic concern from age 13 to 18 years (mean age at Wave 1 = 13 years, SD = 0.46) and examined its association with pubertal status. Adolescents (283 boys, 214 girls) reported for 6 consecutive years on their dispositional perspective taking and empathic concern and for 4 consecutive years on pubertal status. Latent growth curve modeling revealed gender differences in levels and developmental trends. Gender differences in perspective taking emerged during adolescence, with girls' increases being steeper than those of the boys. Girls also showed higher levels of empathic concern than did boys. Whereas girls' empathic concern remained stable across adolescence, boys showed a decrease from early to middle adolescence with a rebound to the initial level thereafter. Boys who were physically more mature also reported lower empathic concern than did their less physically developed peers. The current study supports theoretical notions that perspective taking develops during adolescence as a result of cognitive development. Moreover, the results suggest that pubertal maturation plays a role in boys' development of empathic concern.

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