A preliminary investigation into the relationship between the capacity for empathic response among preschool children and the amount of time they attend daycare

Deborah Briggs Edson (1988)

This study has investigated the effects of extensive peer interaction on the development of the capacity for empathic response among preschool children in a daycare setting. The rapid increase in the numbers of working mothers of preschool children and subsequent increase in daycare for young children has resulted in a dramatic increase in peer interaction. Previous research on the impact of this increase has focused primarily on the behavioral aspects of social development and ignored specific affective aspects such as empathy. This study examined the hypothesis that, among preschool children, the children who have been enrolled in full-time daycare have a greater capacity for empathic response than children who have been enrolled in part-time daycare. The subjects for the study were 50 children ages 3.0-4.11 who attended daycare in a metropolitan area in the Northeastern United States. The instrument used to measure the capacity for empathic response was the Interpersonal Perception Research Test (IPR), developed by Borke (1971) at Carnegie-Mellon University. For comparison, teachers' ratings of a child's prosocial behavior were also obtained. Contrary to expected results, no significant relationship was found between the amount of time that a child attends daycare and his capacity for empathic response. However, a significant effect was found for age and a significant relationship was found between a child's age and the capacity to respond to specific emotions. Teacher ratings of prosocial behavior did not significantly correlate with total IPR scores of empathic response. The findings indicate that there is, in fact, no significant relationship between attendance, specific emotions, and the capacity for empathic response. The results of this study have implications for conceptual consideration, intervention, and future research.