Young children's representations of peers' distress: Associations to children's social functioning and acceptance of distressed peers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Children's mental representations of situations involving another child's distress were examined in two studies. Study 1 examined 3- to 7-year-old children's (n = 44) ideas about what victims and bystanders would think, feel and do in hypothetical situations. In Study 2, 7- to 8-year-olds (n = 40) described their own cognitive response to situations in which they were confronted with another's distress. In both studies, representational bias was examined in relation to children's display of prosocial and aggressive behavior and in relation to their acceptance of distressed peers. Although not entirely consistent, findings indicate that three types of representational biases are associated with low levels of considerate behavior and with relatively low acceptance of distressed peers: (a) mentally representing the victim's problem without giving thought to its implications for the victim, (b) significantly reducing the emotional significance of the problem and (c) exaggerating negative aspects of the problem.


  • Hans Bengtsson
  • Gun Persson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychology


  • empathy, aggressive behavior, prosocial behavior, representational bias
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-213
JournalScandinavian Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch