Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

MA in Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Tamara Del Vecchio

Second Advisor

William Chaplin


Different prosocial behaviors, such as sharing, helping, and comforting emerge during the second year of life. Empathy-related processes play a key role in the development of such early behaviors. Children can demonstrate empathy via personal distress or other-oriented empathy. Whereas personal distress is considered an aversive reaction, associated with emotion dysregulation and desire to reduce one own’s discomfort, other-oriented empathy involves a concern for others—a feeling that should motivate one to alleviate another person’s distress. There is a dearth of studies examining how these two theoretically distinct empathy-related processes relate to various prosocial behaviors in early development. Thus, in this study I examined the role of other-oriented empathy and personal distress in sharing, helping, and comforting during the second year of life. I hypothesized that whereas personal distress would be unrelated, or negatively related, to prosocial behaviors, other-oriented empathy would be positively associated with prosocial behaviors. Additionally, as comforting, in particular, requires toddlers to recognize and interpret another person’s emotions, I anticipated that other-oriented empathy would show the strongest association with comforting. Participants were 200 mothers (Mage = 31.02 years) of toddlers ages 15-21 months old who completed scales measuring helping, sharing, and comforting, as well as other-oriented empathy and personal distress. Other-oriented empathy was positively correlated with all three prosocial behaviors while personal distress was positively associated with sharing and comforting. After controlling for age and gender differences, other-oriented empathy was positively associated with helping, sharing, and comforting, with the strongest association emerging for comforting. In contrast, personal distress did not have a significant effect on any of the three prosocial behaviors. When controlling for the overlap among the three prosocial behaviors, other-oriented empathy had a unique positive association with comforting, but associations with helping and sharing failed to reach significance. These findings underscore the importance of making a distinction between empathy-related processes that are self- vs. other-oriented and studying their unique contribution to different types of prosocial behaviors in toddlerhood.