Developmental trajectories of empathic concern in infancy and their links to social competence in early childhood.
Background null Empathic concern is an important component of children's social competence. Yet, little is known about the role of the development of concern for others during infancy as a predictor of social competence in early childhood. null Methods null Israeli infants (N = 165, 50% girls) were observed five times, from 3 to 36 months. Empathic concern was assessed at ages 3-18 months using observations, and four components of social competence were assessed at 36 months using observations and teacher reports. null Results null Four groups with distinct developmental trajectories of empathic concern from 3 to 18 months were identified: early-onset (starting high and increasing), low-empathy (starting low with minimal increase), rising (starting low and increasing considerably), and a very small group with a negative slope (decreasing). The first three trajectories differed on aspects of social competence at 36 months. Early-onset children continued to exhibit the highest empathic concern. Both the early-onset and rising groups had greater affective knowledge than the low-empathy group. Moreover, the rising group had better peer relations compared with low-empathy trajectory children. null Conclusions null Children who exhibit high levels of empathy early in infancy are likely to show high social competence later on. However, even when initial empathy levels are low, subsequent growth in empathy from 3 to 18 months can occur, with positive consequences for children's social competence at 36 months. Only children with low initial empathic concern and minimal growth across infancy are at increased risk of having poorer socioemotional capabilities in early childhood.