The grounding of empathy in infancy

“The child’s relationship with his or her parents is the crucible for learning about other people. The child not only imagines what their mother (sic) is thinking or feeling about people and things in the immediate environment, but, more importantly, what their mother is thinking or feeling about them.”

(Simon Baron-Cohen, “Zero Degrees of Empathy”, p. 50, describing an argument made by Peter Fonagy)

In his excellent book, Baron-Cohen traces the roots of psychopathy to the infant’s relations with parents or caregivers and suggests empathy is nourished or destroyed from the early years.

If I add a dynamic perspective to this, I would say that the infant “imagining” must be very different from the thought pictures and thought arguments of adult imagining. In early infancy the brain is still developing the connections that will support adult imagination, so that the damage could be structural and even more profound.

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