Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 142–152 | Cite as

Adolescents’ and Parents’ Expression of Empathy: A Social Neuroscience Perspective

  • Jillian M. Hawks
  • Trent S. Parker
  • Ronald Werner-Wilson
  • Nichole Huff
  • Joann Lianekhammy
Original Paper

Abstract

Empathy is a critical component of emotional and moral development, which makes it an important construct to study within adolescence. However, few studies have examined the role of brain activity in the expression of empathy during adolescence. In order to add to the literature, the current study utilized social neuroscience theory as a lens to explore the relationships between brain activity, empathy, and parent–adolescent communication. 15 adolescent–mother–father triads participated in conversations while their brain activities were monitored through the use of an EEG. Their conversations were coded for empathy and positive and negative affect, and alpha asymmetry scores were created from the EEG data. After calculating Pearson correlation scores to test the relationships among empathy, alpha asymmetry, and affect, several statistically significant relationships were identified. For example, adolescents’ expression of empathy was positively correlated with their alpha asymmetry score. In addition, fathers’ empathic expression was negatively related to adolescents’ alpha asymmetry, therefore indicating a greater presence of alpha asymmetry in the right prefrontal cortex in adolescents. These findings suggest important links between brain activity, parent–adolescent communication, and adolescents’ empathic expression. Clinical implications and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Keywords

Adolescents Empathy Brain activity Alpha asymmetry Parents 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jillian M. Hawks
    • 1
  • Trent S. Parker
    • 1
  • Ronald Werner-Wilson
    • 1
  • Nichole Huff
    • 2
  • Joann Lianekhammy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Family SciencesUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Youth, Family, and Community SciencesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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