Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 637–657 | Cite as

Empathy and Involvement in Bullying in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

  • Tirza H. J. van NoordenEmail author
  • Gerbert J. T. Haselager
  • Antonius H. N. Cillessen
  • William M. Bukowski
Empirical Research


Based on the premise that bullies are deficient in empathy or even lack it completely, bullying prevention and intervention programs often include empathy training. These programs are not always as effective as they aim to be, which may be caused by a failure to acknowledge the multidimensional nature of empathy as well as its complex association with involvement in bullying. To provide a clear overview of the research on the association between empathy and involvement in bullying, this article systematically reviews 40 studies on the association of cognitive empathy (24 studies) and affective empathy (38 studies) with four categories of involvement in bullying: bullying, victimization, defending, and bystanding. The results showed that bullying was negatively associated with cognitive and—in particular—affective empathy. Victimization was negatively associated with cognitive empathy but not with affective empathy. Defending was consistently positively associated with both types of empathy. Contradictory findings were observed in bystanding, with studies reporting both negative and positive associations with cognitive empathy, and studies reporting negative and no associations with affective empathy. Together, the findings stress the importance of the distinction between cognitive and affective empathy in involvement in bullying and suggest different intervention strategies for the four types of involvement in bullying.


Systematic review Cognitive empathy Affective empathy Involvement in bullying Children Adolescents 



This work was funded by the National Initiative Brain and Cognition (NIBC) research program Youth and Family of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Author contributions

TvN designed and coordinated the study, conducted the literature search and selection, interpretated results, and drafted the manuscript. GH also conducted the literature search and selection, participated in the design and interpretations, and helped to draft the manuscript. AC and WB participated in the design and interpretations, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tirza H. J. van Noorden
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gerbert J. T. Haselager
    • 1
  • Antonius H. N. Cillessen
    • 1
  • William M. Bukowski
    • 2
  1. 1.Behavioural Science InstituteRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Centre de Recherche sur Développement HumainConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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