Our lab is currently closed due to COVID-19. If you have an upcoming appointment be on the look out for a cancellation email. Please also be aware we currently do not have access to our phone. If you have any questions please feel free to email us at empathylab@duke.edu.

About our Research

Young children are known for being egocentric, yet they are also fascinated with other people and begin to behave prosocially (i.e. with other people’s wellbeing in mind) starting in toddlerhood.  While developing social skills, they struggle with balancing self-regarding and other-regarding interests, sometimes being surprisingly compassionate and sharing their favorite toys, sometimes throwing tantrums when they are not allowed to grab someone else’s favorite toy.  They are receptive to some rules and norms that come from adults, but their behavior with peers is often guided by different, self-generated rules.  And eventually, they develop a complex understanding of the social world around them and begin behaving in ways that may be called “moral”.  How and why does all that happen? Led by Principal Investigator Dr. Rita Svetlova, the Empathy Development Lab’s research addresses these questions by exploring the development of the following abilities in young children (3 to 10 years of age):

  • emotion understanding
  • empathy
  • self- and other-awareness
  • prosocial behaviors (sharing, helping, etc.)
  • fairness and distributive justice
  • commitment and collaboration
  • group coordination and leadership
  • evaluation of others’ morally relevant behaviors.

The Empathy Development Lab is housed in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University.