Empathy refers to the ability to respond affectively to emotions in others, with the purpose of reacting adaptively to another's needs, e.g., to console or support the other person (Decety & Jackson, 2004; Hoffman, 1987; Rieffe, Ketelaar, & Wiefferink, 2010). Empathy is crucial for success in the everyday social world, and begins very early in life. Even the youngest children can already “feel what the other feels”, which is often referred to as “Emotion Contagion” or “Empathic Empathy”. Only with the development of the Theory of Mind, around the age for four, children also begin to understand the causes for others distress, the so-called “Cognitive Empathy”. We have developed two questionnaires, one for toddlers and one for older children and adolescents covering the aspects of empathy relevant for each age-group.
In typically developing children, empathic responses begin with unregulated arousal (what we call 'emotion contagion'), which can actually be harmful because witnessing distress in another baby very often also evokes crying in the observing baby. At about one year, babies learn to regulate their own level of arousal more effectively. They also develop the capacity to attend to others' emotion with less personal distress (we call this behaviour 'Attention to Others' Emotions'). Finally, around age 2, toddlers learn to regulate arousal enough to engage in prosocial behaviour, such as consoling or sharing, which will create strong and healthy social bonds.
The Empathy Questionnaire (EmQue) is a 20 item questionnaire filled out by parents, indicating the degree of empathy that their child (between 1 – 6 years old) showed over the last two months on a three-point-scale. To compute the total score, all 20 items can be included. The EmQue consists of three scales, which are i) Emotion contagion (6 items, item 19 is deleted from this scale due to a poor model fit, see publication); ii) Attention to others' emotions (7 items); and iii) Prosocial responses to others' emotions (6 items).
It is important to consider that healthy emotion regulation is a life-long process which becomes easier and more natural with age. For example, because a child starts to display behavior associated with prosocial responses, they will still experience emotion contagion, and at times only attend to another's emotions without trying to help them.
Rieffe, C., Ketelaar, L., & Wiefferink, C.H. (2010). Assessing empathy in young children; construction and validation of an empathy questionnaire (EmQue). Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 362–367.
Here you can download different versions of the EmQue:
Short 13-Item Version
Validation of the 13-item Italian version:
Grazzani, I., Ornaghi, V., Pepe, A., Brazzelli, E., & Rieffe, C. (2016). The Italian version of the Emapthy Questionnaire for 18- to 36-months-old children: psychometric properties and measurement invariance across gender of the EmQue-I13. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2016.1140640
Children and adolescents
The Empathy Questionnaire for Children and Adolescents (EmQue-CA) is an 18 item self-report questionnaire that examines the level of empathy as reported by the child (9-16 years) in three domains: Affective empathy, Cognitive empathy, and Prosocial Motivation.
Netten, A. P., Rieffe, C., Theunissen, S. C. P. M., Soede, W., Dirks, E., Briaire, J. J., & Frijns, J. H. M. (2015). Low empathy in deaf or hard of hearing (pre)adolescents compared to normal hearing controls. PLoS ONE, 10, e0124102. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124102
Pouw, L.B.C., Rieffe, C., Oosterveld, P., Huskens, B., & Stockmann, L. (2013). Reactive/proactive aggression and affective/cognitive empathy in children with ASD. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 1256-1266.