Prosocial and Antisocial Behaviors in Adolescents: An Investigation into Associations with Attachment and Empathy

Authors: Thompson, Kelly L.; Gullone, Eleonora

Source: Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 June 2008, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 123-137(15)

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Abstract:

The normal development of empathy has been proposed to be imperative to the healthy emotional and social functioning of youths. In contrast, compromised levels of empathy have been linked to an increased propensity to engage in antisocial behaviors, including animal cruelty. Previous findings have revealed parent attachment to be intrinsically linked to the development of empathy. This association has been shown to play a role in predicting the expression of various outcome behaviors, including both those which are prosocial in nature, and those which are antisocial, and potentially aggressive. This study examines these associations in a sample of 281 12- to 18-year-old students. The aims included the investigation of the direct predictive roles played by attachment and empathy for prosocial and antisocial behaviors directed at both humans and animals. We also investigated the mediating role played by empathy in these relationships. Attachment and empathy significantly predicted prosocial and antisocial behaviors, both individually, and in combination. Furthermore, empathy was found to serve a mediating role in the associations between attachment and: human-directed prosocial behavior, the humane treatment of animals, and animal cruelty. These findings expand upon existing literature by demonstrating that it is, at least partially, through empathy that attachment to parents predicts prosocial and antisocial behaviors during adolescence. This is in contrast to the direction of relationships implied by some previous findings and proposals, which have suggested that treating animals humanely fosters the normal development of empathy, for example. Notwithstanding the promising findings revealed by the current study, we recommend that replicating this research using a larger sample will assist in addressing the limited generalizability identified in the current study. It is further proposed that the use of a lie scale could limit the influence of social desirability responding. Future research is also needed to determine the direction of the demonstrated relationships.

Keywords: ANIMAL CRUELTY; ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR; ATTACHMENT; EMPATHY; HUMANE TREATMENT; PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175303708X305774

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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