Empathy, prosocial behavior, and positive development in schools

Tracy L. Spinrad, Nancy Eisenberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

45 Scopus citations


The ability to respond appropriately to others’ distress is an important topic in child development. Prosocial behavior has been defi ned as voluntary behavior intended to benefi t another (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). Contemporary researchers have distinguished between several emotional responses thought to contribute to prosocial behavior. Th ese responses include: (a) empathy, which is defi ned as an aff ective response that is identical to or very similar to what another person is feeling or is expected to feel; (b) sympathy, which is an aff ective response that consists of feelings of sorrow or concern for others; and (c) personal distress, which is characterized by a proneness to over-arousal in the presence of another’s distress. Children’s empathy and especially sympathy have been positively related to prosocial behavior, such as altruistic behaviors and helping (Batson, 1991; Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller, & Miller, 1989; Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, & Emde, 1992), whereas personal distress reactions have been negatively related or unrelated to prosocial actions toward others (Eisenberg et al., 1993; Zahn Waxler, Cole, Welsh, & Fox, 1995).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Positive Psychology in Schools
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)0203884086, 9781135591809
ISBN (Print)0805863621, 9780805863628
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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