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Researchers in the field of sociocognitive development hold differing views concerning factors that influence the development of empathy and the motivation to act prosocially. The present study aimed to investigate whether the acquisition of a theory of mind is associated with preschoolers' ability to respond to others' emotions and demonstrate prosocial motivation. Thirty-seven children between 4 and 6 years of age participated in a series of theory-of-mind tasks as well as in a task designed to assess their emphatic abilities and prosocial motivation. The results did not suggest a significant correlation between childreńs performance in theory-of-mind tasks and their ability to express empathy. Prosocial motivation, on the other hand, was significantly correlated with their performance on the theory of mind measures. The results suggest that a more sophisticated understanding of the mental states underlying human action is not a prerequisite for empathic emotional responses, but that this capacity can have a positive influence on prosocial behavior.

Original publication




Journal article


Estudos de Psicologia (Natal)

Publication Date





613 - 622