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Associations between Empathy and social anxiety in Childhood: the moderating role of mother-child conflict and peer rejection


Empathy may play a role in the development and maintenance of social anxiety, but the relationship between empathy and social anxiety in children remains unclear. The present study investigated the relationships between the three constructs of empathy (i.e., cognitive empathy, positive empathy, and negative empathy) and social anxiety in childhood, examined the moderating role of mother-child conflict and peer rejection and explored gender differences in the moderating effects. The participants were 670 children aged 9 and 12 years and their mothers. Children completed self-reports of empathy and social anxiety, mothers reported mother-child conflict, and peer rejection was measured using peer nomination. Cognitive empathy and positive empathy were negatively associated with social anxiety, and negative empathy was positively associated with social anxiety. The positive effects of high positive empathy on social anxiety existed only in children with low mother-child conflict and low peer rejection. The positive effects of high cognitive empathy on social anxiety were found only in girls with low peer rejection. The results of this study indicate that different constructs of empathy may increase or decrease the risk of social anxiety in children, and a negative interpersonal environment may offset the positive effects of empathy on social anxiety.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available on reasonable request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to restrictions on their containing information that could compromise the privacy of research participants.


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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31900774) and the Beijing Municipal Social Science Foundation of China (19JYB013).

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All authors contributed significantly to the study and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yanfang Li.

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All procedures followed approved by Beijing Normal University’s institutional review board.

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Informed consent/assent was obtained from all study participants.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest or competing interests to declare.

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Cui, D., Liu, L., Wei, B. et al. Associations between Empathy and social anxiety in Childhood: the moderating role of mother-child conflict and peer rejection. Curr Psychol (2022).

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  • Cognitive empathy
  • Positive empathy
  • Negative empathy
  • Social anxiety
  • Mother-child conflict
  • Peer rejection