Adolescents’ and Parents’ Expression of Empathy: A Social Neuroscience Perspective

Jillian M. Hawks, Trent S. Parker, Ronald Werner-Wilson, Nichole Huff, Joann Lianekhammy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Empathy is a critical component of emotional and moral development, which makes it an important construct to study within adolescence. However, few studies have examined the role of brain activity in the expression of empathy during adolescence. In order to add to the literature, the current study utilized social neuroscience theory as a lens to explore the relationships between brain activity, empathy, and parent–adolescent communication. 15 adolescent–mother–father triads participated in conversations while their brain activities were monitored through the use of an EEG. Their conversations were coded for empathy and positive and negative affect, and alpha asymmetry scores were created from the EEG data. After calculating Pearson correlation scores to test the relationships among empathy, alpha asymmetry, and affect, several statistically significant relationships were identified. For example, adolescents’ expression of empathy was positively correlated with their alpha asymmetry score. In addition, fathers’ empathic expression was negatively related to adolescents’ alpha asymmetry, therefore indicating a greater presence of alpha asymmetry in the right prefrontal cortex in adolescents. These findings suggest important links between brain activity, parent–adolescent communication, and adolescents’ empathic expression. Clinical implications and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-152
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Family Therapy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 4 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Adolescents
  • Alpha asymmetry
  • Brain activity
  • Empathy
  • Parents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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