Mindreading and empathy as predictors of prosocial behavior

Cavojova, Vladimira, Belovicova, Zuzana and Sirota, Miroslav (2011) Mindreading and empathy as predictors of prosocial behavior. Studia Psychologica, 53(4), pp. 351-362. ISSN (print) 0039-3320


Social understanding is usually conceptualized as consisting of understanding emotions (i.e., empathy) and understanding the other's mental states (i.e., theory of mind or mindreading). Both these facets of social understanding arc hypothesized to be related to prosocial orientation. The purpose of the presented study is, therefore, to examine whether theory of mind or empathy is the stronger predictor of prosocial orientation. As a secondary aim, we also explored the question of gender differences as an important differentiating factor in both theory of mind and empathy. 197 preadolescents aged 11 to 15 yrs. participated in the study. Participants filled out two tests of theory of mind skills, three empathy questionnaires and the prosocial orientation was determined by peer-nominated questionnaire. The results corroborated the idea that the higher the social understanding, the higher the prosocial orientation. Moreover, theory of mind predicted prosocial behavior better than empathy. Girls outperformed boys in both empathy and mindreading measures. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

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