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Empathy is a highly valued human capacity, but little is known about its early development during infancy. Several research projects in the lab aim to elucidate various important aspects regarding the development of empathy during the first year of life. 

The Development of Empathy During Infancy

Funded by: US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation

Principal investigators: Maayan Davidov, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Ronit Roth-Hanania

Additional collaborators: Yael Paz, Tal Orlitsky, Florina Uzefovsky, Maia Ram Berger, David Mankuta

This longitudinal study examines the early development of empathy for others’ distress and joy from 3-months to 36-months of age. It seeks to better understand when these forms of empathy emerge and how they change with age, whether individual differences in these responses are stable, and their antecedents (e.g., parenting, temperament) and consequences (e.g., prosocial behaviors, adjustment problems). So far, the findings indicate that concern for distressed others develops much earlier and more gradually than previous theories have assumed. 


In Davidov et al. (in press) we found that empathic responses to others' distress were shown by some infants as early as 3-months of age, and continued to develop gradually; self-distress reactions were more rare. These findings appear to refute prior assumptions that empathy emerges only in the second year of life (with self-distress being the typical response earlier on) and that empathy develops in qualitative shifts.


Experimental Examination of Empathy

in Infancy 

Funded by: Israel Science Foundation

Principal investigator: Maayan Davidov

Collaborators: Florina Uzefovsky, Yael Paz, Tal Orlitsky, Maia Ram Berger, Robert Hepach

This longitudinal research uses new methodologies to study different forms of empathy in young infants. It includes multiple methodologies for the assessments of infants’ empathic responses to others’ distress and happiness, at 3- and 6-month of age. These including new eye-tracking measures of cognitive empathy, and experimental assessments of infants’ empathic preferences. Aspects of parenting are also assessed. Follow-up at 36-months is currently being carried out. 

Predicting ASD Diagnosis from Young Infants’ Empathic Responding 

Funded by: The Anita Morawetz Fund for Research on Children at Risk, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Principal investigators: Yael Paz, Maayan Davidov, Ronit Roth-Hanania, Lidia Gabis

Collaborators: Tal Orlitsky, Carolyn Zahn-Waxler

Exceedingly low levels of concern in infancy may indicate risk for later disorders marked by empathy deficits, such as autism or psychopathy. This prospective longitudinal study examines empathy during the first year of life as a potential behavioral marker of subsequent ASD diagnosis. Using a prospective design, infants at elevated genetic risk of ASD (siblings of ASD children) and a matched sample of low-risk infants, are followed from age 6-months to 36-months. Our aim is to determine whether infants’ responses to others’ distress, long before autism is diagnosed, could predict their risk of being subsequently diagnosed with the disorder. The findings can contribute to earlier screening for ASD and thus to early intervention.


Using displays with simple puppets like these, we found that young infants preferred a puppet that has been harmed and expressed distress over an unharmed, happy puppet (Uzefovsky, Paz & Davidov, 2020)


Other projects focus on parenting more broadly


Examination of Domains of Parenting and their Antecedents Across Cultures

Principal investigators: Maayan Davidov, Shira Goldberg, Muna Masri

This research project examines a new instrument: Domains of Parenting Questionnaire. This questionnaire has been designed to assess the five aspects of parenting outlined in Grusec & Davidov (2010): protection, reciprocity, control, guided learning and group participation. The project includes several large online samples, and seeks to shed light on the distinctiveness of the different domains, and the determinants of effective parenting in each domain. 

Parent and Child’s Perceptions of Children’s Autonomy and their Implications in Secular and Religious Society 

Funded by: The Ralph Goldman Center for Social Welfare, Judaism and Ethics

Principal investigators: Adel Zeevi-Cousin and Maayan Davidov

This project investigates parents’ and children’s perceptions regarding the 'personal domain' from age 8 to 16 years, in families ranging in their religiosity levels. The personal domain includes all those issues that children can decide on by themselves, according to their own wishes and preferences (rather than parents making the choices for children). We are interested in developmental changes regarding the personal domain as well as cultural differences and similarities pertaining to it.  

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