Developmental differences in empathy with a television protagonist's fear

Barbara J. Wilson, Joanne Cantor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An experiment was conducted to determine whether children at different ages (3-5 vs 9-11) differ in their tendency to share the emotion of a television character. Subjects were shown a videotape of either a frightening stimulus alone or a character's fear in response to a threatening stimulus that was suggested rather than shown directly. Contrasting predictions were made based on a cognitive-developmental view of the process of empathy vs an automatic conception. Both self-reported emotional reactions and physiological responses were consistent with the cognitive-developmental approach: The younger children were less emotionally aroused by the character's fear than by the fear-provoking stimulus, while the older children responded emotionally to both versions of the videotape. The younger children's lack of empathy was not due to a failure to recognize the nature of the character's emotion. There was some evidence that the older children exhibited a greater tendency to role take than did the younger children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-299
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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