Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 270–277 | Cite as

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

  • David A. LishnerEmail author
  • Luis V. Oceja
  • E. L. Stocks
  • Kirstin Zaspel
Original Paper


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.


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



The authors extend their gratitude to Martin Gründl for granting permission to use the facial stimuli presented to participants in Experiments 1 and 2. Also, the authors thank Belén López, Tamara Ambrona, Irene Fernández, Mark Scurlock, Eric Peyton, and Chris Buchannon for their assistance in collecting data as well as Paul Silvia and an anonymous reviewer for providing helpful comments on an earlier draft. Data collection for Experiment 1 and a portion of the preparation of this manuscript were supported by Ministry of Education and Science grant SEJ2005-06307/PSIC, which was awarded to Luis Oceja.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Lishner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Luis V. Oceja
    • 2
  • E. L. Stocks
    • 3
  • Kirstin Zaspel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  2. 2.Despacho 83, Módulo 4, Departamento de Psicología Social y MetodologíaUniversidad Autonoma de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Texas at TylerTylerUSA

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