Assessing parental empathy: a role for empathy in child attachment.

Research paper by Jessica A JA Stern, Jessica L JL Borelli, Patricia A PA Smiley

Indexed on: 07 Nov '14Published on: 07 Nov '14Published in: Attachment & human development


Although empathy has been associated with helping behavior and relationship quality, little research has evaluated the role of parental empathy in the development of parent-child relationships. The current study (1) establishes preliminary validity of the Parental Affective and Cognitive Empathy Scale (PACES), a method for coding empathy from parents' narrative responses to the Parent Development Interview - Revised for School-Aged Children (PDI-R-SC), and (2) tests a theoretical model of empathy and attachment. Sixty caregivers and their children completed a battery of questionnaire and interview measures, including the PDI-R-SC and the Child Attachment Interview (CAI). Caregivers' interview narratives were scored for empathy using PACES. PACES showed good interrater reliability and good convergent validity with a self-report empathy measure. Parent empathy was positively related to child attachment security (using a continuous score for narrative coherence) and emotional openness on the CAI, as well as to child perceptions of parental warmth. Moreover, parent empathy mediated the relation between parents' self-reported attachment style and their children's attachment security. Implications for attachment theory and future directions for establishing scale validity are discussed.