Researchers at Leiden University have found that young children who lack empathy are at a higher likelihood of aggressive behavior later in life.
The study adds to previous findings which have determined that lack of empathy is correlated with aggression in adolescents and adults. But with the new findings, Malou Noten, the study’s lead researcher, has established what past research has failed to delve into.
For the study, more than 200 mother-child pairs were evaluated during the stages of pregnancy and a few years after birth. By 20 to 30 months old, the infants’ empathy levels were assessed utilizing a pain simulation task. Their impulse control was also evaluated by the research team.
The mothers of the infants also filled out questionnaires of any considerable aggression exhibited by their children.
In essence, the results of their study showed that the more aggression the children exhibit later in life is correlated with a lack of empathy in early childhood.
The lead researcher, Noten, stated the following in the news release: “Our studies show that a high level of aggression is related to low affective empathy: being unable to empathize with another person’s emotions.”
“From prior research, we know that low empathy is a risk factor for aggression in school-age children, adolescents and adults. Little research had been done in young children, however, and the studies that there were gave conflicting results.”