Summary #2 For Peacesetter

Parent–Child-Relationship Quality Predicts Offspring Dispositional Compassion in Adulthood: A Prospective Follow-Up Study Over

Three Decades

Mirka Hintsanen University of Oulu

Kia Gluschkoff University of Helsinki and University of Oulu

Henrik Dobewall University of Helsinki

C. Robert Cloninger Washington University in St. Louis

Dacher Keltner University of California, Berkeley

Aino Saarinen and Karolina Wesolowska University of Helsinki

Salla-Maarit Volanen Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki, Finland, and

University of Helsinki

Olli T. Raitakari University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku,

Finland

Laura Pulkki-Råback University of Helsinki

Compassion is known to predict prosocial behavior and moral judgments related to harm. Despite the centrality of compassion to social life, factors predicting adulthood compassion are largely unknown. We examined whether qualities of parent– child-relationship, namely, emotional warmth and acceptance, predict offspring compassion decades later in adulthood. We used data from the prospective population-based Young Finns Study. Our sample included 2,761 participants (55.5% women). Parent– child-relationship qualities were reported by each participant’s parents at baseline in 1980 (T0) when participants were between 3 and 18 years old. Compassion was self-reported 3 times: in 1997 (T1), 2001 (T2), and 2012 (T3) with the Temperament and Character Inventory (Cloninger, Przybeck, Svrakic, & Wetzel, 1994). By using age at the assessment as a time-variant variable, we applied multilevel modeling for repeated measurements to examine developmental trajectories of compassion from the ages of 20 (the age of the youngest cohort at T1) to 50 (the age of the oldest cohort at T3). On average, compassion increased in a curvilinear pattern with age. Higher acceptance (p � .013) and higher emotional warmth (p � .001) were related to higher compassion in adulthood. After adjusting for childhood confounds (i.e., participant gender, birth cohort, externalizing behavior, parental socioeconomic status, and parental mental health problems), only emotional warmth (p � .001) remained a significant predictor of compassion. Quality of the parent– child-relationship has long-term effects on off- spring compassion. An emotionally warm and close relationship, in particular, may contribute to higher offspring compassion in adulthood.

Keywords: compassion, parenting, parent– child-relationship, warmth, acceptance

Supplemental materials: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0000633.supp

This article was published Online First November 15, 2018. Mirka Hintsanen, Unit of Psychology, University of Oulu; Kia Glusch-

koff, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, and Unit of Psychology, University of Oulu; Henrik Dobewall, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medi- cine, University of Helsinki; C. Robert Cloninger, School of Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis; Dacher Keltner, Department of Psy- chology, University of California, Berkeley; Aino Saarinen and Karolina Wesolowska, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Med- icine, University of Helsinki; Salla-Maarit Volanen, Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki, Finland, and Department of Public Health, University of

Helsinki; Olli T. Raitakari, Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, and Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland; Laura Pulkki-Råback, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.

This study was supported by Academy of Finland Grants 258578 and 308676 (Mirka Hintsanen) and the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation (Mirka Hintsanen, Laura Pulkki-Råback).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mirka Hintsanen, Unit of Psychology, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 2000 (Yli- opistokatu 9), 90014, Finland. E-mail: mirka.hintsanen@oulu.fi

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Developmental Psychology © 2018 American Psychological Association 2019, Vol. 55, No. 1, 216 –225 0012-1649/19/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0000633

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Compassion can be conceptualized as an enduring disposition that centers upon empathetic concern for others’ suffering and a desire to help (Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010). Empirical studies of compassion have revealed that it is related to increased prosocial behavior (Batson & Shaw, 1991; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987), reduced punitive judgments (Carlsmith & Darley, 2008), and ethical judgments of shared common humanity with others (Oveis, Horberg, & Keltner, 2010). Practicing compassion toward others increases individuals’ well-being (Klimecki, Leiberg, Ri- card, & Singer, 2014; Mongrain, Chin, & Shapira, 2011). Com- passion may also help manage interpersonal conflicts and build social harmony, as it is related to enhanced relationship quality (Miller, Kahle, Lopez, & Hastings, 2015; Perrone-McGovern et al., 2014) and more obliging, compromising, and integrating ways of dealing with conflict (Zhang, Ting-Toomey, & Oetzel, 2014).

Recent large-scale meta-analyses (with 13,000 –50,000 partici- pants; Konrath, O’Brien, & Hsing, 2011; Twenge & Foster, 2010) documented an increase in narcissistic traits from the 1980s to the late 2000s (d � .35) and a decline in concern for others from 1979 to 2009 (d � .65). Excessive egoism and narcissism, characterized by a decreased ability to feel compassion for others, undermine the foundations of civil society as they are associated with exploita- tion, corruption, and criminal activity (Blickle, Schlegel, Fass- bender, & Klein, 2006). For this reason, lack of compassion for others is a timely problem in the present society, and information on ways to foster compassion is needed. In this study, we exam- ined the developmental origins of compassion by focusing on parent– child-relationship quality as a potential predictor of off- spring compassion in adulthood.

Compassion and Its Developmental Origins

In the empirical literature, little is known about the develop- mental origins of compassion (Roeser & Eccles, 2015). By con- trast, the development of a related concept, empathy, has been examined more extensively (Moore, 1990; Zhou et al., 2002). Compassion is distinguished from empathy by the fact that com- passion is characterized by a desire to alleviate the suffering of others, whereas empathy is defined as an ability to feel and understand others’ emotions (Hoffman, 1981; Preckel, Kanske, & Singer, 2018; Taylor, Eisenberg, & Spinrad, 2015). Some degree of empathy may be a prerequisite for compassion (Singer & Klimecki, 2014; Strauss et al., 2016). However, in contrast to experiences of empathy, compassion is not accompanied by high levels of anxiety or distress, and more typically is experienced as a positive emotional state (Goetz et al., 2010; Klimecki et al., 2014). Recent research has also implied that compassion predicts helping behavior, even if it is costly to the helper, whereas empa- thy is not related to helping independent of compassion (Lim & DeSteno, 2016). Moreover, empathy and compassion have been shown to be associated with brain activation in different, nonover- lapping neural networks (Klimecki et al., 2014).

Researchers on the development of compassion-related traits, such as empathy and prosociality, have documented considerable continuity (Eisenberg et al., 2002; Grühn, Rebucal, Diehl, Lumley, & Labouvie-Vief, 2008) and a genetic component that, according to twin studies, explains a significant part of variation (69% in adulthood) in these traits (Knafo-Noam, Uzefovsky, Israel, Davi- dov, & Zahn-Waxler, 2015; Knafo, Zahn-Waxler, Van Hulle,

Robinson, & Rhee, 2008). There are likely to be Gene � Envi- ronment interactions, resulting in partial overlap between the ge- netic and environmental effects. Thus, both genes and environment are likely to play significant roles in the development of compas- sion. Regarding environmental effects, and more specifically, the parenting context, cross-sectional research has shown that quality of parenting is related to offspring compassion-related traits in childhood and adolescence: Mother’s higher sensitivity is associ- ated with toddler’s higher prosociality (Newton, Thompson, & Goodman, 2016). Furthermore, toddlers whose parents encourage them to label and explain emotions (e.g., by asking why someone is feeling a certain emotion) act more prosocially, as has been assessed by sharing and helping behaviors in experimental situa- tions (Brownell, Svetlova, Anderson, Nichols, & Drummond, 2013). In preadolescents, parental empathy, restricting children’s hurtful emotional expressions, and support for problem-focused coping in anxiety-inducing situations, have been associated with higher empathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Mark Schaller, Carlo, & Miller, 1991). In adolescents, a combination of maternal involvement and connectedness are associated with empathy (Padilla-Walker & Christensen, 2011).

Some longitudinal findings are also germane to the question of what predicts compassion. A 2-year study reported that higher parental warmth in middle childhood predicts higher empathy- related responding (Zhou et al., 2002). Another longitudinal study over 3 years showed that warm, sensitive, and authoritative par- enting predicts effortful control, which, in turn, predicts compassion-related responding (empathy and prosocial behavior) in middle childhood (Taylor et al., 2015). Although the anteced- ents of compassion have not been investigated, a few studies reaching into adulthood have examined factors in the childhood family environment that could promote the development of compassion-related traits, although the samples of these studies have consisted of only a few dozen participants. A study with 75 participants showed that parenting and childhood family environ- ment predicted adulthood empathetic concern 26 years later (Koes- tner, Franz, & Weinberger, 1990). In their study, parental warmth did not predict empathetic concern, but maternal role satisfaction and tolerance for child dependency, limiting child aggression toward other children, and higher paternal involvement in child- care were prospectively associated with higher empathetic con- cern. A more recent study in a sample of 32 participants showed that maternal warmth, support, and rational discipline (e.g., using reasoning) in childhood predicts higher levels of compassion- related traits in adulthood up until their 30s (Eisenberg, VanSchyn- del, & Hofer, 2015). Overall, research supports the importance of parenting in the development of compassion-related traits, but not much is known about the stability of these effects over develop- mental transitions and whether they persist into adulthood.

Parenting Style

Parenting style forms a wider context or emotional undertone that moderates the effects of more concrete parenting practices such that certain parenting practices produce different outcomes, depending on the more general context of parenting style (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). Parenting style manifests itself in parent– child-relationship quality, which is of crucial significance for the emotional development of the child (Alink, Cicchetti, Kim, &

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217PARENT–CHILD-RELATIONSHIP AND COMPASSION

 

 

Rogosch, 2009; Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002; Stover et al., 2016). Perhaps the most significant dimension defining the quality of parent– child-relationship is Emotional Warmth (alternatively named closeness or connectedness; Clark & Ladd, 2000), as it is recognized by most theorists as an important aspect of parenting (Clark & Ladd, 2000; Maccoby, 1980; MacDonald, 1992; Schaefer, 1959). Warmth can be described as a parent– child emotional bond characterized by emotional availability and posi- tive feelings (Clark & Ladd, 2000; MacDonald, 1992). Warmth has been postulated to be distinct from attachment style, although they often covary (MacDonald, 1992). Another related and impor- tant dimension defining the quality of a parent– child-relationship is Acceptance toward the child (Maccoby, 1980; Schaefer, 1959). In the present study, Acceptance refers to tolerance of the child’s ordinary behavior, whereas low Acceptance denotes that the parent finds it irritating to be with the child and perceives the child as a burden limiting the parent’s possibility for other activities (Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017). Al- though both Warmth and Acceptance are related to the dimen- sion of Love Versus Hostility, as defined by Schaefer’s Cir- cumplex Model for Maternal Behavior (Schaefer, 1959), they seem to form two conceptually distinct subscales, loading on different factors (Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017) and predicting differing outcomes (Gluschkoff et al., 2017; Hintsanen et al., 2010; Katainen, Räikkönen, & Keltikangas- Järvinen, 1997; Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017; Savelieva, Pulkki-Råback, et al., 2017).

Given specific claims found in attachment theory (Bowlby, 1971, 1975) and social learning theory (Bandura, 1978), parental Warmth has been posited to be important in the development of compassion (Eisenberg et al., 2015). Parental Warmth is associated with secure Attachment (Güngör & Bornstein, 2010), which in- cludes positive working models of others, that is, others are seen more positively, trustworthy, and reliable (Bowlby, 1975, pp. 236 –243). Secure Attachment, in turn, promotes compassion and helping behavior toward others (Mikulincer, Shaver, Gillath, & Nitzberg, 2005). According to the principles of social learning theory, children learn by observing others’ behaviors (Bandura, 1978). Thus, observing their parents’ warm and accepting interac- tions is likely to give children a model that supports the develop- ment of compassion.

The Current Study

In the current study, we examined whether positive qualities of parent– child-relationships, that is, Emotional Warmth and Accep- tance, predicted offspring compassion in adulthood. We used prospective population-based data in which the same individuals have been followed up over 3 decades and that include a variety of potential confounds (i.e., participant gender, birth cohort, exter- nalizing behavior in childhood; Eisenberg, Eggum, & Di Giunta, 2010), parental socioeconomic status (SES), and parental mental health problems and covariates (i.e., participant SES and depres- sive symptoms in adulthood) that have been found to be system- atically related to levels of compassion (Steffen & Masters, 2005; Stellar, Manzo, Kraus, & Keltner, 2012). We controlled for the cohort to take into account the potential birth cohort-related vari- ation in predictors and outcome. We hypothesized that positive parent– child-relationship, characterized by higher Emotional

Warmth and higher Acceptance would predict higher compassion of the offspring, even after controlling for the confounds.

Method

Participants

Participants were drawn from the ongoing Young Finns Study (YFS; Raitakari et al., 2008). The YFS was a prospective population-based study that has, since 1980, followed up individ- uals from six different birth cohorts (3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 years old at the baseline). In the current study, we used data from five waves of the YFS: 1980 –1983 (combined to T0), 1997 (T1), 2001 (T2), and 2012 (T3). Parenting was examined at T0. Compassion was first measured when the youngest participants were 20 years old (T1), then 4 years later (T2), and finally, after another 11 years had passed (T3) when the oldest participants had reached the age of 50.

The original YFS sample consisted of 3,596 Caucasian individ- uals. We identified those participants who had information on compassion at least from a single wave and excluded those with missing values on compassion on all three waves (N � 835). The analytical sample comprised 2,761 participants (77% of the orig- inal sample, 1,533 women and 1,228 men). The sample character- istics are described in Table 1. Attrition analyses indicated that, compared with the excluded participants, the included participants were more likely to be women (56% vs. 36%; p � .001), to have higher SES (0.01 vs. �0.18, p � .001), and to have parents reporting higher Acceptance in the parent– child-relationship (1.58 vs. 1.57; p � .001). With regard to the pattern of missing values for compassion, 1,174 (43%) participants had data on compassion from all three waves, 834 (30%) from two waves, and 753 (27%) from a single wave. The mean number of compassion measure- ments was 2.2 waves. Compared to those who had data on com- passion from a single wave, participants with three waves of compassion data had slightly lower childhood externalizing prob-

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics

Variable N M (%) SD Range

Parental characteristics SESa 2,761 .00 .76 �1.96 to 7.74 Mental health problems (yes) 2,761 (2%) — 0 to 1 Emotional Warmthb 2,761 1.64 .07 1.00 to 2.08 Acceptanceb 2,761 1.58 .09 1.00 to 2.08

Offspring characteristics Gender (female) 2,761 (56%) — 0 to 1 SESa 2,761 �.01 .78 �2.08 to 2.83 Externalizing behavior 2,761 1.05 .11 .71 to 2.00

Age at T1 2,761 27.43 5.01 20 to 35 at T2 2,761 31.43 5.01 24 to 29 at T3 2,761 42.43 5.01 35 to 50

Depressive symptoms at T1 2,761 2.15 .67 .06 to 4.57 at T2 2,761 2.07 .67 .38 to 4.62 at T3 2,761 2.06 .69 .07 to 4.86

Compassion at T1 2,102 3.58 .70 1.00 to 5.00 at T2 2,095 3.67 .67 1.00 to 5.00 at T3 1,746 3.74 .60 1.10 to 5.00

Note. T1 � 1997, T2 � 2001, T3 � 2012. a Calculated on standardized variables. b Cubic root transformed.

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218 HINTSANEN ET AL.

 

 

lems (1.05 vs. 1.07; p � .012) and were more likely to be female (64% vs. 43%; p � .001).

The YFS was approved by all participating universities’ ethics committees at the beginning of the study in 1980, and the follow- ups were approved by the ethics committee of the University of Turku (vernacular institution name: Varsinais-Suomen sairaan- hoitopiirin kuntayhtymä, Eettinen toimikunta, Meeting Number 9/2010; study name, “Lasten sepelvaltimotaudin riskitekijät pro- jekti (Laseri) 30-vuotis seurantatutkimus, 25.8.2010”). The study was conducted in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration (WMA Declaration of Helsinki, 2013). Written informed consent was obtained either from the participants or their parents (if the par- ticipant was under 12 years old).

Measures

All measures were presented as written questionnaires posted to the respondents.

Compassion. Given conceptualizations of compassion that define it in terms of reactions to others’ suffering and the inclina- tion to provide help (Goetz et al., 2010), we used the Temperament and Character Inventory (Cloninger, Przybeck, Svrakic, & Wetzel, 1994) to measure compassion. Compassion (vs. Revengefulness) is a subscale of the character dimension, Cooperativeness. Com- passion was assessed with 10 items. The scale and its validity is described in more detail in the online supplementary material. The participants provided their answers on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (absolutely false) to 5 (absolutely true). Mean scores of Com- passion were used in the analyses. Cronbach’s �s for compassion were .87 at T1, .87 at T2, and .85 at T3. Test–retest correlations were high, with measurements up to 15 years apart (r � .68 for T1–T2, .69 for T2–T3, and .59 for T1–T3).

Parent– child-relationship quality. We measured variation in positive parenting in terms of Emotional Warmth and Accep- tance. Warmth and Acceptance were reported by participants’ parents at T0 using two scales derived from the Operation Family Study (Makkonen, 1981), as previously described (Dobewall et al., 2018; Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017; Savelieva, Pulkki-Råback, et al., 2017). Previously, 97% of the responding parents had been shown to be mothers in the YFS data (Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017). We used data from the first wave (Year 1980) with available information, and missing values were filled with data from the subsequent wave (Year 1983), when available. For 97% of the respondents, Acceptance and Warmth were assessed in Year 1980. Acceptance was measured with three items: “In difficult situations, my child is a burden,” “I become irritated when being with my child,” and “My child takes too much of my time” (the items were reverse scored). Emotional Warmth was measured with four items: “My child is emotionally important to me,” “I enjoy spending time with my child,” “I am emotionally important to my child,” and “My child enables me to fulfill myself.” The parents reported the parent– child-relationship qual- ity on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). Cronbach’s �s for both of the scales were .67. Because of negatively skewed distributions, both scales were cubic root- transformed for the analyses. The two characteristics of parent– child-relationship quality were examined separately because they are conceptually different (Savelieva, Keltikangas-Järvinen, et al., 2017) and they have been shown to have distinct predictive valid-

ity (Gluschkoff et al., 2017; Hintsanen et al., 2010). Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed that a two-factor solution fit the data, whereas a one-factor solution did not (analyses are reported in the online supplementary material).

Covariates. Given relations between SES and compassion and prosociality (Stellar et al., 2012), parental SES was assessed at T0 by two indicators, namely, the average of each mother and father’s years in education (from the first wave with available information) and annual household income. Virtually all responses were from 1980. For the few missing cases, the values came from the 1983 data collection. Participant SES was assessed with self- reported total years of education and income in 2007 (between T2 and T3), which was the first assessment wave that included in- come. Both SES indices were constructed by transforming income and education variables into z scores (M � 0, SD � 1) and subsequently adding them together.

Other covariates included participant age (centered at 20 years, which is the age of the youngest participants at the time of the first compassion assessment, and divided by 5), gender (0 � female, 1 � male), participants’ externalizing behaviors (Cronbach’s � .80), measured at T0 in 1980 with six items derived from the Health Examination Survey (Wells, 1980), mother’s self-reported depression medication use (yes/no, measured at T0 in 1980), and birth cohort (coded as a dummy variables). Participants’ depres- sive symptoms (as time-varying covariate measured at T1–T3) was assessed using a modified version of the Beck Depression Inven- tory (BDI; Cronbach’s �s from .91 to .93; Beck & Steer, 1987), in which the 21 second-mildest statements were responded to on a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree; Katainen, Räikkönen, & Keltikangas-Järvinen, 1999). The modified BDI has been shown to capture a larger proportion of the variance in depressive symptoms in population-based samples than then the BDI-II, which was developed for clinical populations (Rosenström et al., 2012).

Statistical Analyses

Prior to conducting the analyses, missing values in all predictor variables were imputed by conducting multiple imputation with chained equations (White, Royston, & Wood, 2011). Using three waves of longitudinal data, we then applied multilevel modeling for repeated measurements to examine developmental trajectories of compassion from ages 20 (i.e., the age of the youngest cohort at T1) to 50 (i.e., the age of the oldest cohort at T3). By using age at the assessment as a time-variant variable, we took advantage of the within-birth-cohort variation in age, enabling us to model nonlin- ear growth trajectories in compassion. Multilevel modeling with maximum-likelihood estimation further allows for missing values in the dependent variable (Hox, 2010) and does not add noise to the data the way other methods, such as, imputing for missing values in the dependent variable can do (von Hippel, 2007). The analyses were conducted for both genders together, as we found no interactions between gender and the parent– child-relationship qualities in predicting compassion (p values � .76).

First, we ran an unconditional growth model (with a random intercept and a random slope for age) to analyze growth trajecto- ries of compassion with age and age squared as the only predictors. Next, we examined the effects of variation in parent– child- relationship quality on the development of compassion by first

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219PARENT–CHILD-RELATIONSHIP AND COMPASSION

 

 

controlling for potential childhood confounders (i.e., participant gender, birth cohort, externalizing behavior in childhood, parental SES, and parental mental health problems) in participants and their parents, and then by additionally adding adulthood covariates (i.e., participants’ SES and depressive symptoms in adulthood). Sepa- rate models were built for the two characteristics of parent– child- relationship quality, that is, Emotional Warmth and Acceptance. To illustrate the effects of parent– child-relationship quality on the development of compassion over time, age-related growth trajec- tories of compassion were plotted. We used STATA 13 statistical software (Stata Corporation, College Station, TX) to conduct the analyses.

Results

Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics of the analytic sample after multiple imputation. The number (percentage) of the partic- ipants in birth cohorts aged 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 at baseline was 450 (16.3%), 452 (16.4%), 488 (17.7%), 485 (17.6%), 475 (17.2%), and 411 (14.9%), respectively. Only 2% of the parents reported mental health problems but because these values were self-reported, they may have been underreported. Values on com- passion could be considered to correspond to the means in the general population, as these values did not differ from the com- passion values in those participants who were excluded from our population-based sample.

Table 2 presents the bivariate Pearson correlations between the study variables. The correlations were obtained from the first imputed dataset. Higher Emotional Warmth correlated with higher compassion at each assessment. Higher Acceptance correlated with higher compassion at T1 and T3. Correlations between com- passion assessments from different time points (T1–T3) ranged from r � .59 to r � .69 (p values � .001).

The unconditional growth model showed that participants varied (p values � .001) in their initial levels, that is, the intercept (M � 3.47, SD � 0.64), and their rates of change, that is, the slope of compassion (M � 0.10, SD � 0.06), that is the variance of the intercept and slope was significant at the individual level). On

average, compassion increased curvilinearly with age (see Figure 1). Results from the multivariate models predicting compassion with parent– child-relationship quality are shown in Table 3. In unadjusted analyses, higher Acceptance (b � 0.306, 95% CI [0.064, 0.548], p � .013) and higher Emotional Warmth (b � 0.619, 95% CI [0.310, 0.928], p � .001) were related to higher adulthood mean levels of compassion, but not to rate of change in compassion. After adjustments for childhood covariates, the asso- ciation for Emotional Warmth was slightly attenuated (b � 0.523, 95% CI [0.215, 0.830], p � .001) and was no longer significant for Acceptance (b � 0.171, 95% CI [�0.080, 0.422], p � .18). When adulthood covariates were adjusted in addition, the association between Emotional Warmth and compassion in adulthood was further attenuated, but remained significant (b � 0.315, 95% CI [0.022, 0.608], p � .035). Adulthood covariates (SES and depres- sive symptoms) attenuated the association between Emotional Warmth and compassion by 40%. Because the majority of atten- uation was a result of depressive symptoms, we additionally ex- amined the potential mediating effects of depressive symptoms by using data from T0 (Emotional Warmth), T1 (depressive symp- toms), and T2 (compassion). We observed a significant indirect effect of emotional warmth on adulthood compassion through depressive symptoms (b � 0.20, 95% CI [0.099, 0.303], p � .001) which accounted for 38% of the total association. The growth trajectories of compassion for low and high levels (�1 SD above the mean) of Emotional Warmth, adjusting for potential childhood confounders and adulthood covariates, are presented in Figure 1.

In addition, we examined the association between parent– child- relationship quality and compassion by simultaneously entering both Emotional Warmth and Acceptance in an unadjusted model. Similar to the results from the models in which the parent– child qualities were analyzed separately, only Emotional Warmth (b � .552, p � .001) but not Acceptance (b � 0.010, p � .159) was associated with adulthood compassion. Emotional Warmth thus appeared to be predictive of later compassion, even when the effects of acceptance were taken into account. Further, we tested how age affected the results by dividing the sample into two

Table 2 Pearson Correlations Between the Study Variables

Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Parental characteristics 1. SESa 1.00 2. Mental health problems (yes) �.02 1.00 3. Emotional Warmthb .06�� �.04� 1.00 4. Acceptanceb �.00 �.05� .27��� 1.00

Offspring characteristics 5. Gender .11��� �.01 �.03 �.05�� 1.00 6. SESa .23��� �.04 .03 �.01 .01 1.00 7. Externalizing behavior �.15��� �.00 �.11��� �.15��� .06��� �.12��� 1.00 8. Age �.02 .03 �.11��� .29��� .01 �.01 �.10��� 1.00 9. Depressive symptoms T1 �.19��� .04� �.08��� �.09��� �.14��� �.04� .01 .00 1.00

10. Depressive symptoms T2 �.16��� .04� �.08��� �.07��� �.12��� �.04� .03 .02 .66��� 1.00 11. Depressive symptoms T3 �.13��� .08��� �.09��� �.04� �.02 �.07��� .03 .05�� .55��� .60��� 1.00 12. Compassion T1 .06�� .02 .05� .06�� �.14��� �.00 �.07�� .13��� �.29��� �.20��� �.17��� 1.00 13. Compassion T2 .04 .02 .05� .02 �.14��� .03 �.10��� .05� �.24��� �.27��� �.22��� .68��� 1.00 14. Compassion T3 .09��� .01 .06� .08��� �.18��� .06�� �.07�� .08�� �.19��� �.18��� �.29��� .59��� .69��� 1.00

Note. T1 � 1997, T2 � 2001, T3 � 2012. a Calculated on standardized variables. b Cubic root transformed. � p � .05. �� p � .01. ��� p � .001.

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groups: those in the three youngest cohorts (aged 3–9 at T0 in 1980) and those in the three oldest cohorts (aged 12–18 at T0). The results on Warmth were similar in both age groups, but stronger in the younger group. Acceptance was associated with compassion only in the unadjusted analyses in the older age group (see sup- plementary Tables 1 and 2).

Discussion

This is the first large-scale prospective longitudinal study ex- amining associations between parent– child processes and adult- hood compassion. We examined two essential dimensions of parent– child-relationship quality (i.e., parental Emotional Warmth and Acceptance) in relation to the development of compassion in data spanning over 3 decades. A parent– child-relationship char- acterized by high Emotional Warmth predicted higher compassion after accounting for a host of possible confounds and covariates.

Parental Acceptance was not, however, associated with compas- sion after taking into account childhood confounds. This study suggests that compassion has its developmental roots in early life experiences, particularly in the level of warmth experienced in the parent– child bond.

Although Emotional Warmth predicted the level of compassion in adulthood, the shape of the compassion trajectory was not affected by Warmth. That is, the difference between those who experienced low or high parental Warmth seems to remain con- stant throughout adulthood. The parent– child-relationship quality, thus, seems to have long-standing consequences. As there is a paucity of research on how childhood factors may affect change later in early and middle adulthood, the findings above are impor- tant also in the wider context of developmental psychology.

It is also noteworthy that in terms of development of compas- sion, Warmth was relevant for the children as well as for adoles-

Figure 1. Growth trajectories of compassion for low and high levels (�1 SD above the mean) of Emotional Warmth, adjusting for potential childhood confounders and adulthood covariates. Predicted means are presented with 95% confidence intervals.

Table 3 Associations of Parent–Child-Relationship Qualities (Emotional Warmth and Acceptance) With Offspring Compassion in Adulthood

Model I Model II Model III

Variable b [95% CI] b [95% CI] b [95% CI]

Age .096��� [.071, .122] .095��� [.068, .121] .081��� [.055, .107] Age2 �.007��� [�.011, �.004] �.008��� [�.012, �.003] �.007��� [�.010, �.003] Emotional Warmth .619��� [.310, .928] .523��� [.215, .830] .315� [.022, .608] Age .094��� [.068, .120] .095��� [.068, .121] .081��� [.055, .107] Age2 �.007��� [�.011, �.003] �.008��� [�.012, �.003] �.007��� [�.010, �.003] Acceptance .306� [.064, .548] .171 [�.080, .422] .025 [�.214, .264]

Note. N � 2,761; b � unstandardized beta coefficient; CI � confidence interval. The results are presented separately for Emotional Warmth and Acceptance. Age was centered at 20 years and divided by 5, and the coefficient reflects how growing 5 years older affected the level of compassion. Model I was unadjusted; Model II was adjusted for childhood factors (i.e., gender, cohort membership, externalizing behavior in childhood, parental socioeconomic status (SES) and parental mental health problems); Model III was additionally adjusted for adulthood covariates (i.e., offspring SES in adulthood, depressive symptoms in adulthood). � p � .05. ��� p � .001.

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cents, as shown by our additional analyses in data divided to two age groups (the 3–9-year-olds and the 12–18-year-olds at the time of the Warmth assessment). Although adolescents profit from Warmth, our results indicate that parental Warmth may be some- what more important in younger children. This is in line with the fact that, in adolescence, the peer group becomes more important than before and simultaneously, the parental influence diminishes (Hay & Ashman, 2003).

Parental Warmth has previously been associated also with higher prosociality and empathy in offspring (Eisenberg et al., 2015; Taylor et al., 2015; Zhou et al., 2002). Even though empathy is conceptually different from compassion and they are related to different neural networks and outcomes (Klimecki et al., 2014; Lim & DeSteno, 2016), our findings suggest that they may share some environmental origins. The results of the present study are also in line with research on attachment styles developing in early caregiving interactions. Sensitive parenting promotes the develop- ment of secure attachment style (Güngör & Bornstein, 2010), which in turn, has repeatedly been shown to relate to compassion and various forms of prosociality (Shaver, Mikulincer, Sahdra, & Gross, 2016). Furthermore, in line with our findings, it has been proposed that experiences of connectedness or unity (vs. separa- tion) are important for identity development, especially the devel- opment of self-transcendent values like compassion (Cloninger & Cloninger, 2011).

Acceptance was not independently associated with compassion after adjustment for childhood factors. Thus, it seems that this association may be fully explained by confounding factors. We also included some adulthood covariates (SES and depressive symptoms) that may have acted both as confounds and mediators. One reason for including these covariates was to gain preliminary information about potential pathways through which parent– child- relationship quality may affect compassion in adulthood. Our results showed that these adulthood covariates did not fully explain the association between Emotional Warmth and compassion, al- though they somewhat attenuated the association. Although adult- hood depressive symptoms appeared to mediate the effects of Emotional Warmth on compassion, there are likely other pathways to explain the association as well.

Although our primary goal was to examine the association between parent– child-relationship quality and compassion, having repeated measures of compassion from participants representing different birth cohorts enabled us also to investigate age-related changes in compassion throughout adulthood. Our results indi- cated that in adulthood, compassion increases in curvilinear and decelerating fashion along with age, which is in line with research on empathy (empathetic concern and perspective taking) showing that empathy increases from young adulthood to the middle age (O’Brien, Konrath, Grühn, & Hagen, 2013). Regarding compas- sion, it has previously been found that compassion declines from age 12 to age 14 (Bengtsson, Söderström, & Terjestam, 2016). Our results imply that this decline turns into renewed increase among individuals in their 20s. The developmental increase in compassion and empathy over adulthood is in line with the finding that mature personality traits, like compassion, increase along with age possi- bly due to cultural norms that shape personality toward this direc- tion (Josefsson, Jokela, Cloninger, et al., 2013). Our findings are also in accordance with the previously found decrease in narcis-

sistic features in young adults when growing older (Johnson et al., 2000).

Our study provides information relevant for parents and social service organizations, such as maternity clinics and child welfare clinics. Parents should be given support and information on the significance of the warmth of parent– child-relationship for the development of compassion in their children. However, as this was the first study on this issue, replications would be needed to confirm our findings. It would also be important to investigate what kind of role professional caregivers and teachers play in the development of children’s compassion and whether the profes- sional caregiver— child relationship quality affects the develop- ment of compassion similarly as the quality of parent– child- relationship.

Limitations and Strengths

There are some limitations that should be acknowledged. First, we used nonstandard measures of parent– child-relationship qual- ity. These measures, however, have been shown to have predictive validity: They predict personality development (Josefsson, Jokela, Hintsanen, et al., 2013), a variety of other factors such as work- related well-being (Hintsanen et al., 2010), and depressive symp- toms (Gluschkoff et al., 2017). Another limitation is that parent– child-relationship quality was assessed only by one parent, mostly mothers. Additional evaluations were not collected from fathers, which was common practice at the time of the measurement in 1980. Furthermore, although we used a well-known and well- validated personality scale (e.g., Cloninger et al., 1994; Goncalves & Cloninger, 2010; Vitoratou, Ntzoufras, Theleritis, Smyrnis, & Stefanis, 2015) to assess dispositional compassion, it has not been validated against other measures of compassion. However, there is neither a gold standard for assessing dispositional compassion nor a well-validated measure exclusively developed for its assessment corresponding to the definition of compassion (Goetz et al., 2010; Strauss et al., 2016). Compassion and some other measures as- sessed with self-reports. The validity could have been increased if other informants had been included. Participant age range was wide (3–18 years) when parent– child-relationship quality was assessed. However, we have previously shown that the parenting scales measure relatively stable parental characteristics (Katainen et al., 1997) and when the parenting variables were standardized within each age cohort, their associations remained practically unchanged (Gluschkoff et al., 2017). Furthermore, when we di- vided our data into two age groups, the results on Warmth were similar in both groups, although somewhat stronger in the younger group. As a further limitation, it should be noted that we cannot exclude the possibility that shared genes between parents and offspring could at least partly explain our findings. There was also selective attrition, so our findings may be more generalizable to women and those with higher socioeconomic position, but it should also be noted that our study included 77% of the partici- pants of the original sample, which can be considered a very high rate in a study spanning over 3 decades. Finally, there may be cultural differences in how easily individuals tend to feel compas- sion and what kind of situations evoke compassion, but thus far these differences are largely unknown (Goetz et al., 2010). Our study was conducted in a Finnish (Caucasian) population and the extent of generalizability of these findings to other cultures is not

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clear. In Finland, independence is expected of children at a very young age. For instance, as school days are short and participation of women in full-time work is nearly as high as that of men, it is common for children as young as 7 years old to spend the after- noon without their parents or even at home alone. Although we can merely speculate, it is possible that in this cultural context, Warmth might have more pronounced effects.

Our study also has several strengths. These include a long follow-up period, prospective measurement of parent– child- relationship 32 years before the outcome, inclusion of a variety of confounders, and a fairly large random sample representative of the Finnish population. Another advantage is the use of multiple imputation to replace missing values. Moreover, using multilevel modeling allowed maximal use of data on compassion, as it allows missing values in the dependent variable when it is assessed several times. Furthermore, the childhood and adulthood factors were reported by different informants, reducing the possibility for common informant bias. Several assessments of compassion years apart increase the validity of the assessment.

Conclusion

In addition to the previously shown genetic underpinnings (Knafo-Noam et al., 2015), our findings suggest that compassion has its developmental roots in early life experiences, particularly in the level of warmth experienced in the childhood family. These results are relevant for parents as well as social service organiza- tions such as child-welfare clinics. Our findings give novel infor- mation on the early factors affecting the development of compas- sion, a subject scarcely studied so far.

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Received October 16, 2017 Revision received June 25, 2018

Accepted August 14, 2018 �

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225PARENT–CHILD-RELATIONSHIP AND COMPASSION

 

  • Parent–Child-Relationship Quality Predicts Offspring Dispositional Compassion in Adulthoo …
    • Compassion and Its Developmental Origins
      • Parenting Style
      • The Current Study
    • Method
      • Participants
      • Measures
        • Compassion
        • Parent–child-relationship quality
        • Covariates
      • Statistical Analyses
    • Results
    • Discussion
      • Limitations and Strengths
      • Conclusion
    • References