Parenting behavior is deeply linked to the ability to empathize with one’s children.
Thus, to better understand why certain parents react to certain situations in a certain way, it is crucial to gain insight into how empathy is shaped.
Our ability to feel and understand the emotions of others, or “empathy,” is at the core of our prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and caregiving.
Scientists have recognized two types of empathy: cognitive and affective.
Cognitive empathy involves understanding another person’s emotions on an intellectual level, taking into consideration someone’s situation and how they would react (for example, “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”).
Affective empathy, on the other hand, is a kind of emotional contagion, where you feel someone’s emotion instinctively after observing their expression or other mood indicators.
Both these types strongly predict how parents behave with their children and can subsequently influence child psychological development. Therefore, understanding how empathy is shaped can help us to decipher parental behavior.
When it comes to biological mechanisms of empathy, scientists are particularly interested in oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” High oxytocin levels predict sensitive parenting.
The scientists wanted to investigate how methylation of OXT, brain structure, and empathy are related in mothers.The findings showed that OXT methylation was positively correlated with a mother’s “personal distress” relating to harsh parenting.
These findings shed light on the complex processes involved in maternal empathy, which could have a real contribution in understanding psychological development in children.
Source: materials provided by University of Fukui, via ScienceDaily.com. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.