Cognitive and Affective Empathy in Adolescent Siblings of Physically Disabled Children

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The study focuses on the apparent psychological benefits of interaction with siblings with impairments who are part of the family system. Because of the growing number of disabled children, the research is mostly focused on Poland. The study's goal is to discover the variations in the influence of cognitive and affective empathy in teenagers who have physically challenged siblings versus those who do not. According to the findings, families with siblings with physical disabilities had significantly higher scores in both cognitive and affective empathy. Simply put, the siblings with the physical limitations in the family context are likely to facilitate the development of a positive psychosocial characteristic including compassion even to nondisabled siblings.


Data from Poland indicates that approximately 184,000 children who are under 15 years possess a disability which impacts their physical and psychological development. The effects of the impairments are also felt by their families. Factors such as atmosphere, age between siblings and gender are reported to affect the emotional development of these kids who are physically challenged. These factors in specific conditions can facilitate or inhibit mutual relationship between these sibling and other people. Feedback from reliable studies illustrates that the siblings of disabled children were found to have: high level of maturity, responsibility and also protection where those adolescents who grew up with those siblings with a disability described their life to be full of experience.


The research was conducted in public high schools localized in the Rzeszow district. The schools in Rzeszow district 21 comprised of 200 classes which had 5116 students of which 2490 were girls and 2626 were boys. The examined school consisted of 250 students who were aged between 12 and 19 years. These students were grouped into two groups: P and T. Those of group P were 125 and a purposive sampling was done regarding having children who are physically disabled in their families. Group T also had 125 students, and the criteria were at least one healthy sibling.


The research began by seeking permission from the district education authority and from the principals of the high schools to be involved. The students who met the criterion for both group C and T were selected followed by informed consent from their parents. The student participants then filled questionnaires in 20 minutes while in their classrooms. At the same time, their teachers were not supposed to be anywhere around. There wasn’t any form of financial compensation to the participants. Out of the 250 materials distributed to the two groups, all were completed, and no problem was reported during the filling of the questionnaires.


Participants were required to provide personal details on their demographics. They also completed an Interpersonal Reactivity Index which is a self-report questionnaire used to measure different components of empathy. Each item on the survey is answered on a 5-response scale.


The analysis showed significant high scores on the cognitive empathy in the participants with a disabled sibling (=25.2) compared to the other group (=21.01). Similar differences also occurred in the affective empathy with group P scoring showing a lower score (20.18) and the other (26.16). Furthermore, variations of the empathies basing on gender were also noted. There was a significantly higher score for the cognitive empathy from girls than in boys.


Living with a physically challenged person in a family is a weighty challenge. The parents and the sibling of such children experience permanent stress. They also lack tolerance to the sibling and the understanding of their behavior. According to the research conducted, it seems that sibling with disabled children undergo complex experiences and are affected by various variables such as age, socioeconomic status, temperament and birth order. The finding of the study suggests that some positive psychological results may be about chronic stress due to the presence of a disabled child in the family.


The research shows that presence of a disabled kid in a family may lead to the development of both the cognitive and affective empathy in the nondisabled sibling. Impact of gender on both empathies is also equally apparent. Age also plays an important role.


Perenc, L., & Peczkowski, R. (2017). Cognitive and affective empathy among adolescent siblings of childrenwith a physical disability. Disability and Health Journal, 1-6. Doi:


Empathy- defined as a compound concept which always involves both the cognitive components.

Affective empathy- ‘Emphatic concern.' It is an act of sharing a feeling one has with the others.

Cognitive empathy- Davis refers to this as ‘perspective taking.' It is an act of knowing what other people think and feel.

Adolescents – young people (especially teenagers) who are undergoing transformation into adulthood

Disabilities – physical or mental conditions or challenges that may hinder movement or undertaking of certain activities

Siblings – children having common parents (brother, or sister).

The Goals of the Research

The study purposefully examines the differences in empathy-related perspectives which exists in a group of adolescents. It also relates this to variables that exist in physically challenged siblings in the family. The study also wants to know how the affective empathy and cognitive empathy are related to age and gender of the subjects.

April 19, 2023

Education Family



Subject area:

Study Empathy Children

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Expertise Children
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