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Here, there and everywhere: Emotion and mental state talk in different social contexts predicts empathic helping in toddlers

Drummond, J and Paul, EF and Waugh, WE and Hammond, SI and Brownell, CA (2014) Here, there and everywhere: Emotion and mental state talk in different social contexts predicts empathic helping in toddlers. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (APR).

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A growing body of literature suggests that parents socialize early-emerging prosocial behavior across varied contexts and in subtle yet powerful ways. We focus on discourse about emotions and mental states as one potential socialization mechanism given its conceptual relevance to prosocial behavior and its known positive relations with emotion understanding and social-cognitive development, as well as parents' frequent use of such discourse beginning in infancy. Specifically, we ask how parents' emotion and mental state talk (EMST) with their toddlers relates to toddlers' helping and how these associations vary by context. Children aged 18- to 30-months (n = 38) interacted with a parent during book reading and joint play with toys, two everyday contexts that afford parental discussion of emotions and mental states. Children also participated in instrumental and empathic helping tasks. Results revealed that although parents discuss mental states with their children in both contexts, the nature of their talk differs: during book reading parents labeled emotions and mental states significantly more often than during joint play, especially simple affect words (e.g., happy, sad) and explanations or elaborations of emotions; whereas they used more desire talk and mental state words (e.g., think, know) in joint play. Parents' emotion and mental state discourse related to children's empathic, emotion-based helping behavior; however, it did not relate to instrumental, action-based helping. Moreover, relations between parent talk and empathic helping varied by context: children who helped more quickly had parents who labeled emotion and mental states more often during joint play and who elicited this talk more often during book reading. As EMST both varies between contexts and exhibits context-specific associations with empathic prosocial behavior early in development, we conclude that such discourse may be a key form of socialization in emerging prosociality. © 2014 Drummond, Paul, Waugh, Hammond and Brownell.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Drummond, Jjkd19@pitt.eduJKD19
Paul, EFefp5@pitt.eduEFP5
Waugh, WEwew36@pitt.eduWEW36
Hammond, SI
Brownell, CAbrownell@pitt.eduBROWNELL0000-0001-5826-8745
ContributionContributors NameEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Date: 1 January 2014
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: Frontiers in Psychology
Volume: 5
Number: APR
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00361
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Refereed: Yes
Other ID: NLM PMC4010777
PubMed Central ID: PMC4010777
PubMed ID: 24808877
Date Deposited: 05 May 2015 16:08
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 12:56


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