Original Paper

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 270-277

The effect of infant-like characteristics on empathic concern for adults in need

  • David A. LishnerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Email author 
  • , Luis V. OcejaAffiliated withDespacho 83, Módulo 4, Departamento de Psicología Social y Metodología, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
  • , E. L. StocksAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Texas at Tyler
  • , Kirstin ZaspelAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

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Abstract

Three experiments tested the hypothesis that empathic concern for adults in need is enhanced by the degree of target infant-like characteristics. Participants reported feeling more empathic concern for an adult target with a more infant-like face than for an adult with a more adult-like face in a Spanish sample (Experiment 1) and in an American sample (Experiment 2). A similar effect was found when participants were presented with either an adult with a more infant-like voice or an adult with a more adult-like voice in a second American sample (Experiment 3). Additional analyses suggest that the infant-like characteristic effect on empathic concern is not mediated by observer perceptions of target attractiveness, target age or youthfulness, target vulnerability, or observer similarity to the target. These results support the proposition that infant-like cues enhance empathic concern in human observers and that the phenomenon generalizes across stimulus modality, gender, and nationality.

Keywords

Empathy Empathic concern Infant-like characteristics Babyfacedness Similarity Vulnerability Attractiveness Age