Fearless Preschoolers Lack Empathy


A study carried out by the University of Haifa in Israel suggests kids who take more risks in preschool are on average less empathetic towards their peers.

The researchers observed 3 and 4 year old children in school, at home, and in the lab, and also collected reports from teachers and parents. They assessed how “fearless” these kids were, and then looked at their social and emotional functioning.

First of all, they found that the more bold, risk-taking little ones had a lower heart rates. Here’s what else they found:

The fearless ones had more difficulty reading facial expressions of other children’s fear. Even though they could correctly identify another kid’s anger, sadness or happiness, they couldn’t see fear signals on that child’s face.

These kids were also more likely to take advantage of their friends, seem superficial or cold, and lack signs of regret or guilt when they hurt another person.

I definitely buy the idea that some kids are more prone to risk-taking than others. Some kids bolt for the open door, seem unphased by traffic, or take plunges off high places without thinking twice. I think a big part of that is built into their temperament, because we are each wired differently in terms of how sensitive our nervous systems are — how we either approach or avoid danger and novelty. This is why the study found that even their blood pressure is different.

So would kids wired this way be more likely to bulldoze right through without noticing they’ve hurt a friend? That’s the idea. Some of our kids are built hyper sensitive to the environment (including sounds, heights…as well as expressions and feelings from others). On the other end of the spectrum, some kids need more help to learn this social skill — they might need more prompting and more explanation of how to tell when someone else is afraid. If they don’t naturally feel it themselves, it’s hard to understand that someone else might.

Image: flickr/woodleywonderworks