As early as 18 months, children show compassion for others. At this age, in a study at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, they showed through their facial expressions or statements that they were touched by another person’s suffering, according to a statement from the university.

The researchers also examined what role the behavior of the caregiver plays in whether children can empathize. The result: The more sensitive the caregiver was to their children’s needs, the better the children were able to show compassion to a stranger in their second year of life. Compassion is therefore socially acquired.

According to the researchers, in order to experience compassion, a child must be able to distinguish between themselves and another person. This ability only develops during the second year of life. It can also be observed, for example, in children recognizing themselves in the mirror.

For the study, a team of researchers observed 127 mother-child pairs during behavioral experiments over a period of one and a half years. Signs of compassion from children were recorded in playful situations at four different points in time. The children observed how another person slightly pushed themselves and felt pain. The children’s reaction was compared to their behavior when they saw another person laughing.