Authentic Empathy: A Cultural Basis for the Development of Empathy in Children



Publication Details

Woolrych, T., Eady, M. & Green, C. (2020). Authentic Empathy: A Cultural Basis for the Development of Empathy in Children. Journal of Humanistic Psychology,


© The Author(s) 2020. Culture is important for the development of social skills in children, including empathy. Although empathy has long been linked with prosocial behaviors and attitudes, there is little research that links culture with development of empathy in children. This project sought to investigate and identify specific culturally related empathy elements in a sample of Dene and Inuit children from Northern Canada. Across seven different grade (primary) schools, 92 children aged 7 to 9 years participated in the study. Children’s drawings, and interviews about those pictures, were uniquely employed as empirical data which allowed researchers to gain access to the children’s perspective about what aspects of culture were important to them. Using empathy as the theoretical framework, a thematic analysis was conducted in a top-down deductive approach. The research paradigm elicited a rich data set revealing three major themes: sharing; knowledge of self and others; and acceptance of differences. The identified themes were found to have strong links with empathy constructs such as sharing, helping, perspective-taking, and self–other knowledges, revealing the important role that culture may play in the development of empathy. Findings from this study can help researchers explore and identify specific cultural elements that may contribute to the development of empathy in children.

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