Parenting style and empathy in youth: a three-level meta-analysis


Empathy can be defined as ‘the ability to share and understand another’s emotional state and context’ (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987), and this has been put forward as one of the most important instigators of human civilisation (Pinker, 2011). It is a bi-dimensional construct, with an affective and a cognitive component (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006). Affective empathy refers to the capacity to experience the emotions of another (Bxyant, 1982), while cognitive empathy is the capacity to comprehend the emotions of another (Hogan, 1969) and to respond in an adequate manner to the situation the other is experiencing (Davis, 1983; Smith, 2006).

Several studies have been conducted on empathy and its important role in social understanding and social interaction (Schwenck et al., 2014). Higher levels of empathy have been shown to be related to prosocial behaviour (Cohen & Strayer, 1987; Dadds et al., 2009; Eisenberg, Eggum, & Giunta, 2010; Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006), whereas deficits in empathy have been shown to be related to increased aggression, low fear conditioning (Popma & Raine, 2006), low impulse control, selfishness (for an overview, see Hosser & Beckurts, 2005), and callous- unemotional (CU) traits (Hare, 2013; Munoz, Quaker, & Padgett, 2011; Raine, 2013; Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick, & Lilienfeld, 2011). A vast body of research has demonstrated that lack of cognitive empathy is also related to (re)offending (see the meta-analysis by van Langen, Wissink, van Vugt, van der Stouwe, & Stams, 2014).

The development of empathy begins at bixlh, since precursors of affective empathy, such as affect mirroring and emotional contagion, are already present in newborn babies (Sagi & Hoffman, 1976). In addition, empathy may start to develop in children through the exposure to empathic and sensitive behaviour of their caregivers (Robinson & Little, 1994).

Therefore, especially the quality of the relationship between the child axxd its primary caregivers, in particular parents, is assuxned to play a major role in the developmexxt of empathy (Laible, 2007).

According to attachment theory, infants need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for their successful social and emotional development, and to learn how to regulate their feelings (Holmes, 1993). Secure attachment develops when children can rely on sensitive caregivers, who attend to their needs of proximity, emotional support, and protection (Atkinson et al., 2000; de Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997; van IJzendoom & de Wolff, 1997). Attachment security has been shown to be related to more empathic behaviour of young aged children (Kestenbaum, Farber, & Sroufe, 1989; Panfile & Liable, 2012; van der Mark, van IJzendoom, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2002), although empathy proved to be unrelated to prosocial behaviour in a study by van IJzendoorn, Bakermans- Kranenburg, Pamiebakker, and Out (2010). Notably, a recent meta-analysis has shown that insecure attachment was positively related to psychopathy, which is a personality disorder characterised by lack of empathy (van der Zouwen, Hoeve, Hendriks, Asscher, & Stams, 2018).

A vast amount of research has been conducted on the parental antecedents of child attachment security, such as parenting style (e.g. Nair & Murray, 2005). The present study aims to integrate the available literamre on the development of empathy in children and adolescents from the perspective of parenting, in particular, differences in parenting styles. It is supposed that parenting styles influence the development of empathy through the particular combination of support and control that parents provide (Baumrind, 1966, 1971). Baumrind described four different parenting styles, based on the two major parenting dimensions of support and control: authoritative parenting (high support and high control); authoritarian parenting (low support and high control), permissive parenting (high support and low control), and uninvolved parenting (low support and low control).

Authoritative parenting is characterised by warmth, reasonable demands, and high sensitivity and responsiveness to the child’s needs. Authoritative parenting has been shown to be related to secure attachment of children (Doinita & Maria, 2015; Millings, Walsh, Hepper, & O'Brien, 2013). Although authoritative parents have high expectations of their children, they are also able to provide their children with the resources and support they need to succeed. Authoritative parents are open and responsible, and provide their children with love and warmth in addition to limits and fair discipline, resulting in a positive development of (cognitive) empathy and perspective taking towards behaviour of others (Farrant, Devine, Maybery, & Fletcher, 2011; Soenens, Duriez, Vansteenkiste, & Goossens, 2006).

Authoritative parents tend to use inductive discipline to teach their children prosocial behaviour (moral internalisation) and empathy by modelling prosocial behaviour, expressing compassion for others, pointing out similarities among people from different backgrounds, and discussing moral beliefs and values (Dlu- gokinski & Firestone, 1974; Hoffman, 1970b, 1982, 1983, 1984; Hoffman & Saltzstein, 1967; Zalm-Waxier, Radke-Yarrow, & King, 1979). Hoffman (1970a) claimed that the most effective type of parenting discipline is “induction”, in which parents emphasise the perspective of others, point to the distress of possible victims, and learn perspective taking and showing empathic responses towards others (Bar-Tal, Raviv, & Leiser, 1980; Holmgren, Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Kre- vans & Gibbs, 1996; Oliner & Oliner, 1988).

The authoritarian parenting style is characterised by exceedingly high expectations, demands, and control in contrast to low levels of warmth, guidance, and responsiveness, which has shown to be negatively associated with secure attachment (Doinita & Maria, 2015; Millings et al., 2013). Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, but are unable to provide sufficient (positive) feedback and nurUirance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. Yelling and corporal punishment are also commonly seen in the authoritarian style. Authoritarian parents take decisions for their children without explanation, resulting in uncertainty and dependence of their children (Nix et al., 1999), which negatively affects personal growth, and may finally result in anxiety, loneliness, unhappiness, and aggressive behaviour (Berk, 2006). Due to their lack of warmth and unresponsive behaviour, authoritarian parents do not foster perspective taking and empathy in their children (Cornell & Frick, 2007).

Permissive parenting is characterised by low demands and high responsiveness. Permissive parents tend to be loving, but do not provide adequate control. High permissive parenting has been shown to be associated with avoidant and anxious attachment (Doinita & Maria, 2015; Millings et al., 2013), which may hamper the development of empathy (Hazan & Shaver, 1987; van IJzendooru, 1997). These parents do not expect mature behaviour from their children and often seem more like a friend than a parent. Therefore, they may lack the authority to socialise then- children, for instance, by teaching empathic responding through the provision of inductive discipline (Hoffman, 2000). Because there are few rules, expectations, and demands, children raised by permissive parents tend to have low self-control (Baunnind, 1993, 1997; Lamboru, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). Permissive parenting results in disobedience, defiant, and impulsive behaviour of the child (Berk, 2006) as well as lack of emotional self-regulation, which may further hamper the development of empathy (Schaffer, Clark, & Jeglic, 2009).

Finally, uninvolved or also called neglectful parenting is characterised by a lack of responsiveness to a child's needs. Uninvolved parents make few to no demands and are often indifferent, dismissive, or even completely uninvolved (Lamborn et al., 1991; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994). Neglect negatively affects emotional development and can result in anxious or avoidant attachment of the child (Doinita & Maria, 2015; Millings et al., 2013). Uninvolved parenting is characterised as the most dysfunctional parenting style and has shown most negative impacts on the development and behaviour of the child (Todorovic & Matejevic, 2014). Research has shown that ueglectfiil parenting (Barnow, Lucht, & Freyberger, 2005), authoritarian or harsh and punitive parenting (Grogan-Kaylor, 2005), and permissive parenting (Beck & Shaw, 2005; Kimouis et al., 2006) are risk factors for the development of antisocial behaviour and may hamper the development of empathy in children (Grogan-Kaylor, 2005; Nelson, Padilla-Walker, Christensen, Evans, & Carrol, 2011).

This chapter describes the results of a meta-analysis on the association between parenting style and empathy ш children. It will also be investigated whether the association between parenting and children's empathy is moderated by the measurement of empathy (affective, cognitive, or empathy in general), research design (cross- sectional or longitudinal), children's gender, ethnicity, age, parents’ socio-economic status (SES), measurement instruments to investigate parenting style and empathy (questionnaire or observations), and the country where the research is conducted.

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