The Influence of the Presence of Intellectually Handicapped Siblings on the Development of Empathy in Children

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The major purpose of this study was to determine if a relationship exists between the development of empathy and the presence of a handicapped sibling among children. The siblings of the handicapped children were between four and one half and eight and one half years of age. The Feshbach-Roe Affective Situations Test was individually administered to 60 siblings of handicapped and nonhandicapped children. The handicapped children were younger siblings of those tested. These handicapped children ranged in age from 12 months to three and one half years. The results indicated that there is no statistically significant difference in overall empathy between children with younger handicapped and younger nonhandicapped siblings. Stepwise discriminant analysis did, however, reveal that there is a differential pattern among individual empathy variables for the two groups. For the total group (p < .028) it was revealed that siblings of the handicapped expressed less empathy toward happy scenarios and more empathy toward fearful scenarios. For children > 7 years (p < .001) siblings of the handicapped expressed more empathy in situations depicting fear and anger and less empathy toward sad situations. The use of the Feshbach-Roe Affective Situations Test was supplemented by interviews with six of the siblings. The interviews added clinical insights that were usually in accord with the implications of the statistical findings. Explanations for the profile of the statistical and clinical results are offered. The possible ramifications of the results are discussed and future research directions are recommended.