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Matricardi, Giada (2009) Se soffri, resto e ti aiuto, o scappo e penso a me? L'influenza di fattori individuali e contestuali sulla responsivitĂ  empatica, sui comportamenti prosociali e autocentrati in bambini di etĂ  prescolare. [Tesi di dottorato]

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Abstract (inglese)

In the last thirty years, a research field has been growing strongly, which systematically investigated the development and expression of empathic responsivity and consequent prosocial or self-focused behaviors in preschool children. In this field of studies, a still neglected issue is that of individual and situational antecedents that precede empathic responses and influence their expression.
The present dissertation investigates how individual (effortful control) and situational (presence of expressive and/or situational indices in the context; intensity of expressed emotions and the possibility to escape from the other’s suffering) factors, taken individually or in interaction, can influence empathic responsiveness and prosocial or self-focused (self-soothing, avoidance/avoidant) behaviors in preschool children.
The aim of the first study is to investigate the role played by expressive (i.e., facial expressions and behavior indicating the other’s emotion) and situational (i.e., events that might elicit a specific emotion in someone else) indices, taken together or separately/independently, in eliciting empathic responses, prosocial or self-focused behaviors in 3-and 5-year-old children (N = 120) witnessing to the sadness of a non-familiar adult. An observational technique was employed. From a developmental perspective, the results of the study provide a preliminary empirical contribution to Bischof-Kohler’s theoretical model (Bischof-Kohler, 1991). This model assumes that during preschool years children manage more and more complex cognitive mechanisms, and make use of more mature types of empathy that enable them to take the others’ point of view and understand his/her situation on the basis of situational indices in the context more clearly with respect to younger children. In 3-year-old children, results showed a differential influence of separate or combined expressive and situational stimuli on the elicitation of prosocial or self-focused empathic responses. In, 5-year-old children, self-focused behaviors tend to be more frequent and stable when only expressive stimuli are present. This result might be explained by the children’s difficulty in managing shared emotions when an obvious cause is lacking, or to inter-individual differences in the ability to regulate one’s emotions.
In order to better understand this issue, we decided to explore whether individual factors related to self-regulation can influence empathic responsivity. More specifically, the study was aimed at investigating the influence of effortful control and impulsivity on trait/dispositional empathy. Effortful control and impulsivity are temperamental variables that are thought to be crucial for the understanding of individual differences in emotion regulation and the resulting behavioral responses of preschool children to social stimuli. Effortful control can be defined as a self-regulating dimension of temperament (Rothbart et al., 1994) that manifests itself in the ability to intentionally and actively inhibit a dominant response and to activate a subdominant one based on context demands (Eisenberg & Spinrad, 2004; Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Impulsivity is conversely defined as a reactive dimension of recognizable undercontrol in individuals who tend to rush headlong into situations without adequate reflection (Arsenio, 1994; Eisenberg, 2002; Spinrad et al., 2006). Empirical evidence has shown how effortful control is associated with positive social development and how impulsivity is associated with detriments children’s social skill development (Eisenberg & Morris, 2002). Moreover, a large number of studies report that children high in effortful control show high levels of empathy and sympathy (Rothbart et al.1994; Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996; Eisenberg, Fabes, Shepard, et al., 1998; Murphy, Shepard, Eisenberg, Fabes, & Guthrie, 1999; Eisenberg et al, 2006; Rothbart, et al., 2004). There are controverse evidence about the relation between impulsivity and empathy/sympathy (Eisenberget al., 2007).
Accordingly with these considerations, as a first step (study 2), three parents’ report scales have been validated on 432 Italian children, 3-8 years of age: 1) the short version (CBQ-SF) of the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ-Putnam & Rothbart, 2006), providing a measure of temperament; 2) the complete version of the Effortful Control scale (Rothbart et al., 2001), and 3) a scale measuring trait/dispositional empathy (Ahadi & Rothbart, 1994). The results supported a good fit of the models to the data.
Therefore (study 3), a model of structural equations was tested to verify the differential influence of effortful control and impulsivity on trait empathy, as rated by parents of 5-year-old children (N=120). In line with the literature, a positive influence of effortful control on empathy emerged. No relation between impusivity and empathy is found.
A fourth study was aimed at investigating the combined influence of effortful control (evaluated through a multimethod measure) and contextual factors (the possibility to retreat/escape and the intensity of emotional stimulation, that call self-regulation into play) on empathic expression/responsiveness, and prosocial and self-focused behaviors in 5-year-old children, using an observational technique.
In the first stage, a CFA was used on a group of 5-year-old children (N=228) to verify the validity of a multimethod measure of effortful control, including the parents’ ratings in the Italian version of the CBQ (Rothbart, 2001), and ratings obtained in an observational task of sustained attention (Puzzle task, Eisenberg et al. 2004). A model of structural equation again confirmed the influence of effortful control (as reported by parents an observed in children) on trait empathy rated by parents.
The differences between children with high and low effortful control (165 out of the 228 in initial sample) were tested using a 2x2 factorial design, with two between-subject factors: one including two levels of difficulty in escaping from the experimental situation (easy vs difficult), and one including two levels of intensity of sadness showed/expressed by the experimenter (high vs moderate). The results indicate that situational factors (possibility to escape and intensity) interact in influencing empathic responses, leading to greater responsivity in children when retreating form the other’s suffering is difficult and stimulus intensity is high. No significant effect of effortful control on the expression of empathic behaviors was found. On the other hand, effortful control together with situational factors influence the expression of self–focused behaviors.
Taken together, these results suggest the importance of taking in account the complexity of empathic responses and related behaviors in preschool years, and the interactions between individual self-regulation and the characteristics of the emotional situation. In this way it will be possible a better understanding and a clearer interpretation of observable expressions of empathy in children, and thus provide useful indications for courses of primary prevention. Such courses might effectively influence the development of empathic competence by promoting prosocial behaviors.


Abstract (italiano)


In letteratura esiste un florido filone di ricerca che, nell’ultimo trentennio, ha sistematicamente studiato come si sviluppano e si manifestano nei bambini di età prescolare, la responsività empatica e i comportamenti prosociali o autocentrati che possono farvi seguito. In questo ambito di studi un settore ancora poco esplorato è quello dello studio degli antecedenti (individuali e situazionali) che preludono alle risposte empatiche e ne influenzano l’espressione.
Il presente lavoro di tesi esplora in che modo fattori individuali (effortful control) e situazionali (presenza nel contesto di indici espressivi e/o situazionali; intensità dello stimolo manifestato, e possibilità di allontanarsi dalla sofferenza dell’altro) considerati separatamente o in interazione tra loro influenzano la responsività empatica, i comportamenti prosociali o autocentrati (autoconforto, evitamento) nei bambini di età prescolare.
Obiettivo di un primo studio è indagare il ruolo che gli indici espressivi (espressioni facciali e comportamento che esplicitano l’emozione provata dall’altro) e situazionali (cioè eventi che potrebbero suscitare un particolare vissuto nell’altro) presenti separatamente e congiuntamente rivestono nell’elicitare manifestazioni empatiche, comportamenti prosociali o autocentrati in bambini (N=120) di 3 e 5 anni in risposta alla tristezza osservata in un adulto. E’ stata utilizzata una tecnica osservativa. In termini evolutivi i risultati dello studio portano un primo contributo empirico al modello teorico di Bischof-Köhler(1991) che ipotizza che nel corso dell’età prescolare, i bambini, riuscendo a padroneggiare meccanismi cognitivi progressivamente più sofisticati, hanno accesso a forme di empatia più mature, che consentono loro di cogliere il punto di vista dell’altro e di comprendere, con maggior chiarezza rispetto ai bambini più piccoli, la sua situazione sulla base degli indici situazionali presenti nel contesto. A 3 anni i risultati evidenziano un’influenza differenziale della presenza congiunta o separata degli stimoli espressivi e situazionali nell’elicitare risposte empatiche, prosociali o autocentrate. A 5 anni quando è presente esclusivamente lo stimolo espressivo i bambini tendono a mostrare comportamenti autocentrati più frequenti e duraturi. Questo risultato potrebbe essere riconducibile ad una difficoltà dei bambini nel gestire il vissuto condiviso in assenza di una causa evidente; ovvero a differenze inter-individuali nella capacità di regolare le proprie emozioni.
Per approfondire questa questione si è ci si è chiesti se fattori individuali legati alla regolazione di sé, potessero influire sulla responsività empatica. In particolare, si è inteso studiare l’influenza sull’empatia di tratto di variabili temperamentali che fin dai primi anni di vita sembrerebbe essere centrale per comprendere le differenze individuali nella regolazione affettiva e nelle conseguenti risposte comportamentali dei bambini di età prescolare in risposta agli stimoli sociali: l’effortful control e l’impulsività L’effortful control è definibile come la dimensione auto-regolativa del temperamento (Rothbart et al., 1994) che si esplicita nella capacità di sopprimere intenzionalmente e attivamente una risposta dominante per attivarne una subdominante sulla base delle richieste del contesto (Eisenberg & Spinrad, 2004; Rothbart & Bates, 2006). L’impulsività è invece definita come una dimensione reattiva di undercontrol riconoscibile in individui che si gettano a capofitto nelle situazioni senza un’adeguata riflessione (Arsenio, 1994; Eisenberg, 2002; Spinrad et al., 2006). Evidenze empiriche sottolineano come l’effortful control sia associato ad un positivo sviluppo sociale, e come l’impulsività sia associata ad un detrimento dello sviluppo delle competenze sociali nei bambini (Eisenberg & Morris, 2002). Numerosi studi hanno rilevato che bambini con alti livelli di effortful control, mostrano alti livelli di empatia e sympathy (Rothbart et al.1994; Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996; Eisenberg, Fabes, Shepard, et al., 1998; Murphy, Shepard, Eisenberg, Fabes, & Guthrie, 1999; Eisenberg et al, 2006; Rothbart, et al., 2004). Controverse le relazioni tra impulsività ed empatia/sympathy (Eisenberg et al. 2007).
In accordo con queste considerazioni, come primo passo (studio 2) sono state validate su un gruppo di 432 bambini italiani di 3-8 anni delle scale parents’- report: la versioni breve (CBQ-SF) del Children’s Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ-Putnam & Rothbart, 2006) per la misura del temperamento, la versione lunga della scala di Effortful Control (Rothbart et al., 2001) e una scala per la misura dell’empatia di tratto (Ahadi & Rothbart, 1994). I risultati hanno confermato un buon adattamento dei modelli ai dati.
Quindi (studio 3), è stato testato un modello di equazioni strutturali che verificasse l’influenza differenziale dell’effortful control e dell’impulsività sull’empatia di tratto riferita dai genitori in bambini di 5 anni (N=120). In linea con la letteratura si è rilevata un’ influenza positiva dell’effortful control sull’empatia dei bambini. Nessuna relazione è stata rilevata tra impulsività ed empatia(Eisenberget al., 2007).
In un quarto studio, si è indagata l’influenza congiunta dell’effortful control (utilizzando una misura multimetodo) e di fattori contestuali (possibilità di fuga e intensità dello stimolo emotigeno, che mettono in gioco la capacità di autoregolazione) sulle manifestazioni empatiche e i comportamenti prosociali e autocentrati messi in atto da bambini di 5 anni, avvalendosi di una tecnica osservativa.
In una prima fase, utilizzando una CFA, si è verificata su un gruppo di bambini di 5 anni (N=228) la tenuta di una misura multi metodo di effortful control composta dai punteggi parents’- report che i bambini hanno ottenuto alla versione italiana della scala del CBQ (Rothbart, 2001) e dai punteggi ottenuti ad una prova osservativa di persistenza dell’attenzione (Puzzle task, Eisenberg et al. 2004). Quindi, utilizzando un modello di equazioni strutturali si è riconfermata l’influenza dell’effortful control (riferito dai genitori e osservato nei bambini) sull’empatia di tratto riferita dai genitori.
A questo punto ci si è focalizzati sull’obiettivo centrale dello studio.
Le differenze tra i bambini (165 dei 228 partecipanti iniziali) con alto e basso effortful control sono state testate utilizzando un disegno fattoriale 2 x 2 con due fattori tra soggetti: uno rappresentato dai due livelli di difficoltà che incontrano i bambini per allontanarsi dalla situazione sperimentale (fuga facile vs fuga difficile) e uno rappresentato da due livelli di intensità con cui lo sperimentatore manifesta tristezza (alta intensità verso moderata intensità). I risultati indicano che i fattori situazionali (possibilità di fuga e intensità) interagiscono nell’influenzare le risposte empatiche, determinando una maggiore responsività dei bambini quando è difficile allontanarsi dalla sofferenza dell’altro e lo stimolo emotigeno è più intenso. Non si è rilevata un’incidenza dell’effortful control sul manifestarsi di espressioni empatiche. D’altro canto l’effortful control congiuntamente ai fattori situazionali influenza la messa in atto di comportamenti autocentrati.
Presi complessivamente questi risultati suggeriscono l’importanza di restituire complessità allo studio dell’empatia nell’età prescolare, considerando le interazioni tra la dimensione individuale autoregolativa e le caratteristiche della situazione emotigena, per comprendere e interpretare con maggiore chiarezza le manifestazioni osservabili di empatia dei bambini e pensare corsi di prevenzione primaria che possano più efficacemente incidere sullo sviluppo della competenza empatica promuovendo condotte prosociali.

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Tipo di EPrint:Tesi di dottorato
Relatore:Albiero, Paolo
Dottorato (corsi e scuole):Ciclo 21 > Scuole per il 21simo ciclo > SCIENZE PSICOLOGICHE > PSICOLOGIA DELLO SVILUPPO E DEI PROCESSI DI SOCIALIZZAZIONE
Data di deposito della tesi:02 Febbraio 2009
Anno di Pubblicazione:2009
Parole chiave (italiano / inglese):empatia, comportamento prosociale, regolazione emotiva comportamenti autocentrati
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-PSI/04 Psicologia dello sviluppo e psicologia dell'educazione
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione
Codice ID:1944
Depositato il:02 Feb 2009
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