The effects of affective and cognitive empathy on adolescents' behavior and outcomes in conflicts with mothers

Caspar J. Van Lissa*, Skyler T. Hawk, W.H.J. Meeus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The current study investigated whether manipulations of affective and cognitive empathy have differential effects on observed behavior and self-reported outcomes in adolescent mother conflict discussions. We further examined how these situational empathy inductions interact with preexisting empathic dispositions. To promote ecological validity, we conducted home visits to study conflict discussions about real disagreements in adolescent mother relationships. We explored the roles of sex, age, and maternal support and power as covariates and moderators. Results indicated that the affective empathy manipulation had no significant effects on behavior, although a trend in the hypothesized direction suggested that affective empathy might promote active problem solving. The cognitive empathy manipulation led to lower conflict escalation and promoted other-Oriented listening for adolescents low in dispositional cognitive empathy. State trait interactions indicated that the empathy manipulations had significant effects on self-reported outcomes for adolescents lower in dispositional empathic concern. For these adolescents, both manipulations promoted outcome satisfaction, but only the cognitive manipulation promoted perceived fairness. This suggests that cognitive empathy, in particular, allows adolescents to distance themselves from the emotional heat of a conflict and listen to mothers' point of view, leading to outcomes perceived as both satisfying and fair. These findings are relevant for interventions and clinicians because they demonstrate unique effects of promoting affective versus cognitive empathy. Because even these minimal manipulations promoted significant effects on observed behavior and self-reported out-comes, particularly for low-empathy adolescents, stronger structural interventions are likely to have marked benefits. (C) 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-45
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Empathy
  • Perspective taking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Adolescence
  • Experiment
  • Adolescent-parent relationships


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