Linking parent–child and peer relationship quality to empathy in adolescence: A multilevel meta-analysis

Savannah Boele*, Jolien Van der Graaff, Minet de Wied, Inge Van der Valk, Elisabetta Crocetti, Susan Branje

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Empathy, which is the ability to feel concern for and to understand others' feelings, is thought to develop in high quality relationships with parent and peers, but also to facilitate the quality of these relationships. While a wide literature has addressed this aspect, the heterogeneity of primary studies, in which different indicators of relationship quality (e.g., support, conflict) and empathy (i.e., affective and cognitive) have been examined, makes it difficult to draw conclusive answers. Therefore, it remained ambiguous how parent-child and peer relationship quality are associated with adolescents' empathy. In order to increase the understanding of these associations, a multilevel meta-analysis was performed, which allowed for including multiple effect sizes from each study. By a systematic literate search, 70 eligible studies were found that provided 390 effect sizes from 75 independent samples. The results showed a small positive correlation between parent-child relationship quality and empathy, and a small-to-moderate positive correlation between peer relationship quality and empathy, which was significantly stronger than the correlation with parent-child relationship quality. Hence, the meta-analytic results indicate that adolescents with higher quality relationships, especially with peers, indeed tend to show more concern for and understanding of others' emotions than adolescents with lower quality relationships. Moreover, the moderation analyses showed stronger correlations for the positive dimension of relationship quality than for the negative dimension, and stronger correlations for composite scores of affective and cognitive empathy than for separate scores of the empathy dimensions. However, no differences in correlations were found between the affective and cognitive empathy dimension, and no moderation effects were found for gender and age. Thus, this meta-analysis demonstrates robust positive associations between parent-child and peer relationship quality and empathy in adolescence, implying that good empathic abilities may be a protective factor for experiencing poor relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1055
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Volume48
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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Keywords

  • ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIORS
  • Adolescence
  • CHINESE ADOLESCENTS
  • DIFFERENTIAL RELATIONS
  • EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE
  • Empathy
  • FRIENDSHIP QUALITY
  • GENDER-DIFFERENCES
  • MODERATING ROLE
  • Multilevel meta-analysis
  • PERSPECTIVE-TAKING
  • PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR
  • Parent-child relationship
  • Peer relationship
  • Relationship quality
  • SELF-ESTEEM

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