A longitudinal study of maternal empathy as a predictor of adolescent empathy mediated by maternal emotional support.
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Although the theory suggests that maternal empathy is important for adolescent empathic development, the intergenerational transmission of maternal-to-adolescent empathy remains limited. This study examined the intergenerational transmission of empathy from mothers to adolescents between 15 and 17 years old and included maternal emotional support as a mediator. The participants in this study are part of the longitudinal research RADAR (Research on Adolescent Development And Relationships) in the Netherlands. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) measured the empathy of adolescents and their mothers, and the Networks of Relationships Inventory (NRI) measured the extent to which adolescents experience emotional support from their mothers. A hierarchical multiple regression analysis shows that the intergenerational transmission of empathy from mothers to their adolescent children is completely mediated by the emotional support that mothers provide. This suggests that mothers pass on their empathy to their adolescent children through their emotionally supportive parenting style. This finding can be explained by the fact that empathetic mothers model empathic behavior for their adolescent children, giving them the opportunity to develop empathic behavior. However, follow-up research will be needed to gather more evidence. For example on the difference between affective and cognitive component in empathy, but also the role of gender in the intergenerational transmission of empathy in both adolescents and their parents.