The multifaceted role of empathy in the transmission of postpartum depressive symptoms between parents

Osnat Zamir*, Ohad Szepsenwol, Ben Shahar, Dana Lassri, Dana Shai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Postpartum depression is a common challenge faced by mothers and fathers and can be transmitted between them. Despite the well-documented adverse effects of postpartum depressive symptoms (PPDS) on parents and children, not much is known about risk factors pertaining to the transmission of PPDS between parents. Guided by The Social Functions of Emotions theory, the current study tested the moderating effects of different forms of empathy, including perspective-taking, empathic concern, and personal distress on the transmission of PPDS between parents. Pairs of first-time Israeli parents (N = 105) completed self-report questionnaires assessing emotional (personal distress and empathic concern) and cognitive (perspective-taking) empathy during the third trimester and PPDS at three and six months postpartum. The results showed that in both parents, greater PPDS at 6 months were predicted by one's own greater personal distress. Also, lower perspective-taking and greater empathic concern of fathers predicted their own PPDS. Furthermore, the associations of PPDS at 3 months with PPDS at 6 months between parents occurred when fathers reported lower levels of personal distress and when mothers reported greater perspective-taking. Also, when mothers were lower in perspective-taking, greater PPDS at 3 months in fathers predicted lower levels of PPDS in mothers at 6 months. The study reflects the multifaceted role of empathy in the development of PPDS in new parents and highlights the potentially adverse effects of emotional and cognitive empathy on the development of PPDS in parents.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)851-864
Number of pages14
JournalFamily Process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Family Process published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Family Process Institute.


  • emotion transmission
  • empathy
  • postpartum depression
  • transition to parenting


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